For Bloodworks volunteer and recently-retired OB/GYN Tiffany McDemott, Bloodworks’ mission – and in particular our work on maternal hemorrhage response and our cord blood collection program – is personal. Why? Because she’s been in the room to watch the most beautiful moment of a brand-new mother’s almost turn to tragedy and then, by the grace of a stranger’s blood donation, turn back to joy again:
“You can imagine the heartache of someone who has recently brought life, losing a life. And so many times throughout my career, I was witness to the gift of life both in childbirth. That was my job. But to actually bring someone back to life with a blood transfusion is quite miraculous. And that’s actually where you feel like you are actually doing your job as a physician.”
“Childbirth is natural; there are billions of people on the planet because it works. But this is where you’re like really interceding and really making a difference. So there’s that which always had me very motivated to be involved with Bloodworks”
And her passion for Bloodworks doesn’t end with helping ensure a robust blood supply. During her career as an OB/GYN, she became acutely aware of the process involved both with cord blood collection, and is today a huge advocate for expanding Bloodworks’ program beyond the five area hospitals currently participating. The reason is simple: For a patient who is unable to find a suitably-matched bone marrow donor on the national registry (please sign up!), a cord blood transplant can be a viable, lifesaving option.
“We grow a baby from a placenta, and there are cells in your placenta,” Tiffany said. I mean, the cells that begin to grow a human, they’re called totipotent stem cells. When you start, you’re a one cell organism, and that one cell – a stem cell – gives rise to a variety of other cells. And cord blood is full of them.”
“It’s like when give someone a blood transfusion at the time of a postpartum hemorrhage, you’re giving them the gift of life. When you give someone a stem cell transplant, you’re giving someone a second chance. They’ve had this horrible exposure to a blood-borne illness and you’re giving them a redo. You’re giving them a reboot. And I’m passionate because, for the most part, this is a product that we are not preserving. We’re not taking full advantage of this gift of this miraculous thing that is created. We’re not getting full benefit from stem cells.”
“And then in the next place is that people of color and BIPOC populations can really benefit from stem cells because their match on bone marrow is so low because most bone marrow donors are not people of color.”
“And so the probability of someone…but all of these people of color are having children and all of these BIPOC people. And as we mix, especially here in Seattle, like everybody mixes, like it’s the greatest thing that we can get this stem cell and we don’t have to be as specific and we can get the stem cell from these people of color. So, being a former OB/GYN, I have unique entree into the world of that hospital, of that delivery room, of those people, and I can talk to my colleagues one on one.”
Thanks to Bloodworks’ highly personalized volunteer program, Tiffany has been able to take her knowledge, skills, background, and passion to her role as a volunteer, visiting hospitals on Bloodworks’ behalf to advocate for cord blood collection programs.. She even helps train hospital staff on cord blood collection procedures and works with our Bloodworks Bio team on our cord blood research initiatives.
“Our volunteer program is really specialized,” said Bloodworks Northwest Volunteer Resource Manager Naomi Howatt. “We always try to place volunteers in roles that interest them and that speak to their backgrounds. With volunteers in every department of Bloodworks, we can always find a good fit for our volunteers that makes them feel good and helps our staff tremendously. Especially with the pandemic, we are for the dynamic passion and perspective our volunteers bring to Bloodworks, and encourage anyone interested in becoming one to apply today!”
April 17 – 22 is Volunteer Appreciation Week nationwide, but appreciate our volunteers every day for their contribution to what we do. Whether it’s being a volunteer courier for critical blood products on land or in the air, helping hand out snacks to donors at Donor Centers, helping expand our programs like Tiffany, or even just telling your friends about our lifesaving mission, thank you.