When you think of healthcare in Gainesville, UF Health Shands, North Florida Regional Medical Center and the VA Medical Center may instantly come to mind. But there’s another medical powerhouse that works hard to keep our community healthy: LifeSouth Community Blood Centers.
LifeSouth is a nonprofit blood center that serves more than 130 medical facilities across the Southeast – including all of the hospitals in Alachua County. The blood collected from volunteer donors in Gainesville goes directly to patients in our local hospitals.
Collecting approximately 300,000 blood donations a year, LifeSouth is dedicated to meeting the community’s needs. The blood center’s North Florida district hosts more than 5,500 blood drives a year to keep local hospitals supplied. The organization relies on local businesses to host these blood drives in order to serve area patients.
“We were established because our local hospitals saw the need for a community blood center to assure there was always blood available,” said LifeSouth President and CEO Nancy Eckert. “Gainesville is unique. Because of the large regional hospitals drawing patients from across the state and beyond, the need for blood here is great. Today we fill that need not just locally, but for patients in hospitals across Alabama, Georgia and Florida.”
The company was founded on 13th Street in 1974 by the local Civitan Club, and its corporate headquarters now resides on Newberry Road. Today LifeSouth employs around 300 people in the greater Gainesville area, and more than 800 people across its overall footprint.
And these employees do a lot more than collect blood donations. In addition to collecting blood, LifeSouth is an expert in transfusion technology. With four therapeutic apheresis nurses on staff in Gainesville, LifeSouth offers area hospitals onsite assistance for patients needing specialized care.
The nonprofit also runs two immunohematology reference laboratories (IRL), one of which is in Gainesville. These labs work diligently to match highly specific blood components to patients needing rare, lifesaving transfusions. In order to fulfill these precise patient needs, LifeSouth makes more than 15,000 phone calls a year to rare blood donors who may be a match!
Expanding its lifesaving reach, LifeSouth also has an affiliate program called LifeCord. This nonprofit, public cord blood bank collects umbilical cord blood from newborns at area hospitals. The stem cells found in a cord donation treat life-threatening illnesses such as leukemia. LifeCord has collected hundreds of umbilical donations in Gainesville that have gone to help patients across the globe. There is no cost to donate cord blood to LifeCord, and the process is painless for both mom and baby.
LifeSouth also hosts the Five Points of Life Foundation, a nonprofit charity designed to raise awareness about these lifesaving donation options. The foundation teaches a program in area schools K-12 about the five ways to share life with others, through the donation of blood, apheresis, marrow, cord blood, and organs and tissues. This important work is dedicated to transforming students into “the donation generation.”
“Five Points and LifeCord are both innovative programs that are saving lives now and helping to raise awareness about the importance of donation today and for a future generation,” Eckert said.
LifeSouth is committed to always pushing the needle forward (no pun intended). In fact, the blood center recently led the nation’s FDA-approved study by screening all blood donations for the Zika virus.
LifeSouth piloted the screening in Florida in July, and it expanded testing to its Georgia and Alabama locations in August. The trial successfully identified those with Zika, and the FDA later mandated the screening for all blood donors in the Miami area. This innovation reinforces LifeSouth’s top priority to keep the blood supply safe for patients in need.
“Our purpose established more than 40 years ago still drives us today – connecting donors with the patients in all of the communities we serve to save lives,” Eckert said.
By Koertni Blackketter