LifeSouth brings blood to South Georgia

Nov 27 – VALDOSTA – Julian Vickers reclined in an armchair, TV remote control in hand. In front of the chair was a small TV on a bracket; He captured the final minutes of “The Terminator” by hopping channels.

“My wife made me do this regularly,” said the Berrien County resident. β€œIt helps against the iron. We have our own well and the iron levels are higher. If we go away for a few days and then come home and drink the water, you can tell the difference.”

What Vickers did to improve his iron levels also helps others. He donated blood at LifeSouth’s facility at 301 Woodrow Wilson Drive.

LifeSouth originated in Gainesville, Fla., in 1974, said Laura Bialek, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit.

She said the spark behind the group’s creation came when Shands Hospital, operated by the University of Florida at Gainesville, called on local community groups to create a locally-focused blood donation center. The city had no local blood organization before, she said.

“The only group that agreed to help was the local Civitan chapter,” Bialek said. “In fact, for years we were known as the Civitan Regional Blood Centers.”

Expansion over the decades has added 29 other blood centers, including the one in Valdosta, as well as 50 blood mobile buses for blood donations, she said. LifeSouth supplies blood to 125 hospitals, including South Georgia Medical Center.

Nearly 1,000 people work at LifeSouth, Bialek said.

There are different types of blood donation. One is for platelets, small blood cells that help the body clot blood. Whole RBC donations are the most common, Bialek said, and are needed for people in emergency situations. Some people have conditions like sickle cell anemia that require frequent blood transfusions to treat.

Blood comes in several types, many of which are incompatible with each other. Blood types are classified based on whether or not they have specific antigens or molecules as part of the blood cells. The “+” or “-” in the label of a blood group decides whether a certain protein is present or not.

Giving someone a transfusion that doesn’t match their original blood type can be disastrous, as the body’s immune system mistakes the new blood for a foreign invader and goes on the offensive. For example, someone with blood type A- can only safely donate blood to other people in A group such as A-, A+ or AB- and AB+. It would be a serious mistake for that person’s blood to be transferred to someone who is naturally B- or B+.

Vickers said he has O+ blood, meaning he can donate blood to anyone who has a “+” in their blood type, including A+ and B+.

Bialek said O-Blood is the most sought-after at LifeSouth. O-, which lacks all antigens and this key protein, can be safely transfused to anyone regardless of blood type, making it valuable as a “universal blood”.

“For example, if there is a trauma case and the hospital doesn’t have time to test the blood group, they can give the patient an O transfusion,” Bialek said.

On Nov. 10 β€” the day of her interview for this article β€” Bialek said LifeSouth had requests from hospitals for 65 units O-.

in Valdosta, South Georgia Medical Center, began using LifeSouth as a source of blood in 2017, citing faster turnaround times for sourcing blood products.

“LifeSouth’s distribution center is located in Lake City, Fla., reducing delivery time of urgent blood products to SGMC by 2.5 hours,” the hospital said in a statement. “Its reference laboratory for antibody processing is located in Gainesville, Fla. which is 150 miles closer than SGMC’s previous supplier.”

Bialek said LifeSouth tries to keep blood donations in the local community as much as possible; SGMC has priority over other hospitals for donations in the Valdosta area.

The blood mobile can be used for blood drives in certain parts of the city. In October, LifeSouth held its first fundraising event at Valdosta State University.

“It was great,” said Bialek. “There were more than 60 donors.”

Additional LifeSouth blood drives were held at the Sunset Farms plant in Valdosta and the Lanier County Courthouse in Lakeland in early November.

“Each donation can save three lives,” said Bialek.

Terry Richards is Senior Reporter for the Valdosta Daily Times.