Over the years, I’ve met many blood and bone marrow recipients
who would not be alive today if it weren’t for the generosity of
blood donors and my former colleague Lance Williams is one of
I met Lance at the Tampa NBC affiliate, WFLA, more than a decade
ago and his strength and determination to beat cancer continues to
For years, Lance reported on criminal stories, but he never
imagined he’d be on the death row known as leukemia, a sentence
imposed after a simple blood test.
Lance hadn’t been feeling well for quite some time. His blood
pressure was elevated and he felt exhausted. That may not sound
that unusual considering he had a three-year-old son, a 9-week-old
daughter and a very stressful job, but he went to his physician to
get checked out. The doctor told him there was nothing wrong.
Fortunately, Lance got a second opinion and a blood test. The blood
test showed leukemia cells in his system and doctors say he
wouldn’t have made it two more weeks.
That blood test set the wheels in motion for a whirlwind of
treatment, which included chemotherapy, medication and blood and
platelets from donors. Lance describes treatment as being in a
daze. The drugs and chemotherapy made him feel like a different
person whose body was failing.
Eventually Lance started feeling a little better. He returned to
work and was trying to get back into the swing of things, when
another blood test changed his course of fate yet again. This blood
test showed that the leukemia was back and this time it was back
with a vengeance.
Lance said, “It was as if I climbed to the top of a tall
building and jumped off and survived and in December I thought now
I’m going to have to climb back to the top of that tall building
and this time I’m not going to survive.”
Chemotherapy, medication and blood products would not be enough
this time around. Lance needed a bone marrow transplant to sustain
life, but like 70% of patients in need of a transplant, he didn’t
have a matching donor in his family.
Lance turned to the National Bone Marrow Registry for
assistance, but he didn’t have any luck finding a match there
either. Doctors told him there was nothing else that could be done
and Lance and his family prepared for the worst. But, as luck would
have it, the FDA approved the drug Gleevec the next day. This drug
was not approved to treat the kind of leukemia Lance was suffering
from, but it was approved to treat the Philadelphia chromosome, the
one thing that made his cancer so deadly.
Lance took six pills a day and eventually went into
During that time, an 18-year-old joined the National Bone Marrow
Registry and she was a perfect match for Lance.
Today, Lance is doing well. He’s cancer-free and left the news
business for a career in real estate.
He says, “just God’s providence in providing the Gleevec when he
did, providing Erin when he did, providing all of those blood
donors throughout all of those many, many months. I don’t know how
many dozens of gallons of blood there must have been involved. Just
here in Tampa, I probably had 110 donors and then in California, I
probably had three times that many. So, many, many, many gallons of
blood from countless donors, who really did save my live, so when
people become blood donors, the joy is that you can really save a
life without having to lose your own. The joy of being a transplant
donor is, the joy of being a bone marrow transplant donor is you
can save a life without giving your own.”
Peni Miller is the first face you see when you walk into the
blood center in Saint Petersburg. She always offers a smile and a
kind word. It’s easy to see that she believes in the blood centers
life saving mission and for Peni this is more than just a job.
Peni’s two older sisters, Isabelle and Jacqueline, were born
with sickle cell disease though it went undiagnosed until their
teenage years. She remembers the girls being in constant pain and
says the hospital was their second home.
Normal red blood cells are circular and move easily throughout
the blood vessels, but in patients with sickle cell disease, the
red blood cells are sickle or crescent shaped. They are stiff and
sticky and can form clumps, causing pain and even organ damage.
Transfusing sickle patients with blood from healthy donors put
fresh red blood cells back into circulation. Peni says her sisters
received so many blood transfusions over the years that she lost
count, but she knows they wouldn’t have survived as long as they
did without the donated blood.
Peni suffers from sickle cell trait, but doesn’t show symptoms
of sickle cell disease. For a long time she was unable to donate
blood and that’s why she felt it was her mission in life to recruit
Though her sisters have passed on, Peni keeps them close to her
heart and has their photos in frames shaped liked angles on her
desk, so she can share the story of “her angels” with blood donors
who are about to give the gift of life.
Keep Swimming-Talia Meets Ellen
13-year-old Talia Castellano is one of the most inspiring girls
I’ve ever met. She was diagnosed with a form of cancer called
nueroblastoma on Valentine’s Day 2007. She’s relapsed three times
since then and recently found out that not only did the cancer
spread to her bones, but she also has pre-leukemia, which is a
Over the years, Talia has become an internet sensation after she
began posting video make-up tutorials online. Her videos have
been viewed by more than 14 million people across the globe, but it
was her heartbreaking v-log about her recent prognosis that landed
her in the mainstream media. Her video entitled “IDK what to say”
offers a real, harsh look into the reality of childhood cancer.
Since her post, Talia’s received phone calls from the Today Show
and People Magazine as well as numerous other media outlets across
the world, but it was her dream to meet Ellen DeGeneres.
Her dream recently became a reality. Talia not only met the Day
Time Talk Show Host, but appeared on her show. Talia and Ellen
talked about make-up and her strength to “just keep swimming”
through life. During the show Cover Girl Cosmetics made Talia and
honorary cover girl and gave her a new make-up table as well as a
check for $20,000.
Talia has received countless blood and platelet transfusions
over the years and often speaks about the need for blood donors on
behalf of Florida’s Blood Centers. I
Hug Seen Around the World
It’s the hug that’s been seen around the world- Florida’s Blood
Centers Ambassador Scott Van Duzer giving President Barak Obama one
of his signature bear hugs.
The Commander in Chief stopped by Big Apple Pizza in Fort Pierce
to commend Van Duzer for his charity work and his dedication to
saving lives through blood donation.
Van Duzer regularly hosts blood drives at Big Apple Pizza and
even rode a bicycle from Palm Beach to Washington D.C. to raise
awareness for blood donation.
Van Duzer is also the mastermind behind the annual Be a Hero Day
blood drive, which generates more than 1,000 units of blood.
The President remarked on Van Duzer’s stature, saying he is the
largest pizza-man he’s ever seen. He also joked about building
muscles by eating some of Van Duzer’s pizza.
Van Duzer‘s famous embrace landed him in the spotlight. Van
Duzer landed on the front page of the New York Times and his bear
hug led evening newscasts across the country. By the next morning
Van Duzer’s famous embrace was the hot topic on many morning shows.
He spent the first part of the day fielding interviews from the
likes of MSNBC to Anderson Cooper to television and radio stations
across the world.
He even gave some reporters a great big bear hug.
Van Duzer told reporters that he and the President spoke about
the Van Duzer Foundation as well as the need for blood donations.
He even invited Obama to attend the Fourth Annual Be a Hero Day
Blood Drive on November 14th.
of the Month
Orlando ABC affiliate WFTV and Florida’s Blood Centers have been
saving lives for the past 30 years and Bob Opsahl has rolled up his
sleeve at every blood drive. Opsahl has donated more than three
gallons of blood over the past three decades and has helped save
about 75 people in our local hospitals. He says he donates blood
because it makes him feel good to give back to the community and he
enjoys the health benefits of donating blood. Opsahl is passing on
his blood donation tradition to the next generation. His nephew
began giving blood at Boone High School and plans on following in
his uncle’s footsteps by being a local hero, saving lives.
Survivor Encourages Donation
Volusia County resident Ophelia Beier is
haunted by the sounds of September 11, 2001.
“I cannot forget the smell. I can’t forget them screaming for help.
I can’t forget the running. Glass was flying…smoke was
everywhere…it was black…you know, it was just like the blind
leading the blind-you didn’t know which way or where you were
Beier had been working at the Pentagon for nearly a decade on that
fateful day that started out like many others.
She had been headed to her office the morning of September 11,
2001, when something stopped her in her tracks.
“I heard a voice that was telling me that I should turn around and
not run into trouble. I literally thought someone was behind me
speaking and I turn around and I don’t see anyone and I’m like-who
Ophelia didn’t see anyone behind her, so she continued walking to
“And then all of a sudden the voice said, ‘go to your meeting’! The
voice was so audible and so strong and so angelical that I knew it
was the voice of God. I run toward my meeting and I get on the
other side of the building in corridor 15 minutes later where I was
headed the plane came into…smashed into my office
window…smashed into the Dept. of Army Budget Office where I was
34 out of 37 of Ophelia’s co-workers were killed in the attack.
“You know-you could just smell the charred bodies. You know the
building just burned for days and days and days you could see it
and you could see this huge hole where the plane came in and I was
always thinking that was the hole that I felt in my heart. “
While Ophelia was living a nightmare, Americans across the country
were flocking to the closest blood center to give the gift of
In fact, more people donated blood on September 11, 2001 than any
other day in American history.
Florida’s Blood Centers Interim CEO Mike Pratt remembers long lines
of people waiting for a chance to roll up their sleeves in hopes of
helping out any victims that may have been found alive.
One of those blood donors was Sandra Carr.
She says, “I was helping save a life. I was doing what I could here
in Florida. We also didn’t know if the attacks were going to
continue. We didn’t know what was going to happen in our own
backyard at that time. It was just an unpredictable, scary week for
everyone in the nation. So to me, knowing that I was able to do my
part to help someone that may have been critically injured in New
York during that day. My comfort level was wonderful in knowing
that I did my part.”
As we remember 9/11, Florida’s Blood Centers is encouraging
everyone to roll up their sleeves and give the gift of life in
honor of those who lost their lives on that tragic day.
Donor Bambi Yiannis says,” I think that’s a wonderful way to pay
tribute to everyone because donating blood is life-giving and
that’s what we all remember from that day is how many lives were
lost, but maybe we should change it on the anniversary and donate
and give everybody the new memory of all the lives saved by those
As for Ophelia, she retired from the Pentagon and became an author
and an ordained reverend. She says, “Every year it relieves my
heart just a little bit to know that an entire nation is thinking
and remembering my friends. People want to do something for 9-11
and if you want to do something for the anniversary of 9-11 donate
blood. Do it today.”
If you’re planning a pregnancy, you may want to wait until after
age 35; sudden cardiac death may be linked to sickle cell trait and
if you do shift work, you may be at a greater risk for heart attack
Women who give birth in their late 30’s and early 40’s may have
a decreased risk of endometrial cancer. That’s according to a new
study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Researchers found that women who gave birth to their last child
between the ages of 35 and 39 reduced their risk of endometrial
cancer by 32 percent, compared to women who delivered their last
baby by age 25. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why this occurs,
but some say that hormone levels during pregnancy are beneficial in
preventing cancer at older ages
Sickle cell trait may be responsible for sudden cardiac death in
African-American athletes. Researchers studied 32 years of data
from the U.S. Sudden Death in Athletes Registry and found
convincing evidence that that sickle cell trait played a role in
these deaths. Researchers say understanding the risks, mechanisms
and event triggers of the sickle cell trait may allow life-saving
alterations in training methods to be implemented.
If you work nights you may want to pay attention to your heart.
A new study published in the British Medical Journal finds shift
workers are 24 percent more likely to suffer a coronary event, 23
percent more likely to suffer a heart attack and five percent more
likely to suffer a stroke compared to regular daytime employees.
However, shift work was not linked to an increase risk of
Log More than 14,000 Hours
Our volunteers are at the heart of Florida’s Blood Centers. In
fact, you would have to work 24/7 for about two years to equal the
amount of time our volunteers contributed to Florida’s Blood
Centers last year. We recently honored our dedicated volunteers
during an appreciation luncheon at the Rosen Centre Hotel. This
annual event attracts our volunteers from all over the state and it
was nice to see people from high school students to senior citizens
being recognized for their hard work.
Many students volunteer with Florida’s Blood Centers to
accumulate volunteer service hours and work experience. They do
things such as recruiting donors at blood drives and assisting with
office-work. Volunteers Ricardo Yance and Carolina Narnevz even
landed jobs in our tele-recruiting department after learning the
ropes through our volunteer program.
Florida’s Blood Centers recognized Ambassadors Scott Van Duzer
and Raye Deusinger with special awards. Van Duzer hosts regular
blood drives with Florida’s Blood Centers, created “Be a Hero Day”
and even rode a bicycle from Palm Beach to Washington D.C. to
create awareness for blood donation. Deusinger used to write a
regular column about the need for blood in the local paper and she
created the Okeechobee Blood Round-Up, an annual blood drive that
nets more than 500 units of blood.
Volunteer Peter Milano also earned top honors after logging more
than 9,000 service hours. Volunteers are imperative to the
life-saving mission of Florida’s Blood Centers. Thank you for all
that you do!
With all eyes on London for the 2012 Olympic Games, I started
thinking about U.S Swim Coach Michael Lohberg. He’s a six-time
Olympic swim coach who led Olympian Dara Torres to victory. I had
the pleasure of meeting Coach Lohberg at his South Florida home in
the fall of 2009. I wasn’t there talking about Olympic glory,
instead I was talking with him about his constant need for blood
and platelets from donors.
Coach Lohberg suffered from aplastic anemia. That’s a condition
in which the bone marrow doesn’t produce red blood cells. Doctors
don’t know what causes it and there is no cure, but blood and
platelets from donors can help patients sustain life. Lohberg joked
that he received so many transfusions that he doesn’t have any
blood of his own anymore.
Coach Lohberg’s struggle began at the 2008 Olympic trials. He
was suffering from a herniated disc and had excruciating pain in
his lower back. He was also feeling tired and weak, but chalked
that up to working long hours preparing for the upcoming games.
After the trials, Coach Lohberg had surgery on his back. He figured
he’d be out of commission for a little while, but back to normal in
time for the Bejing Olympics. He was wrong. Doctors described his
blood counts as not just low, but catastrophic. He spent the 2008
Olympic games in a room at the National Institutes of Health where
they were able to somewhat stabilize him.
Blood and platelets from donors were crucial to his survival. He
received regular transfusions, which allowed him to continue
coaching six days a week at the Coral Springs Aquatic Complex. A
surgical mask and a port dangling from his arm are the only
tell-tale signs that something was wrong. His health made traveling
difficult, but he was able to see his swimmers compete worldwide
thanks to the Internet.
In April of 2011, Coach Lohberg passed away after a well-fought
battle with the disease. He leaves behind an Olympic legacy that
spans three decades. He also leaves behind a legacy of hope because
his story continues to inspire blood donors to give the gift of
The FDA approves the first drug for HIV prevention, being
physically active may work out your mind and your body and losing
weight may be as simple as following three easy steps.
The drug Truvada has been used as part of an HIV treatment
regimen for some time and now the FDA has approved the drug to
protect uninfected people against HIV. The FDA says the drug must
be taken every day in order to prevent HIV. If it’s only taken
sporadically people who get infected may end up with a
drug-resistant form of HIV that they can spread to others.
A new study out of the University of Pittsburgh shows that
exercise may reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and can even
increase brain growth in older adults.
The study, which was presented at the Alzheimer’s Association
International Conference showed older adults without Alzheimer’s
who walked for 30-45 minutes three days a week for a year had a 2%
increase in their region of the brain that stores important
If you want to lose weight and keep it off you may want to keep
a food journal, avoid skipping meals and try not to eat out.
That’s according to a new study in the Journal of the Academy of
Nutrition and Dietetics. Researchers found women who followed these
habits lost five to eight pounds more than women who didn’t engage
in these practices.