New bell ringing tradition spreads joy
Hope. It’s what drives everything we do here at MD Anderson. It’s what lifts us up and keeps us going, carrying us through even our toughest days. And it’s what we strive to give our cancer patients and their families, in ways big and small.
And while the COVID-19 pandemic brings unprecedented challenges and changes for all of us, hope remains. It’s what drives us and binds us. It’s what we crave, and it’s what we strive to bring to you.
Here are a few of the ways you can support people in the MD Anderson community during this time.
Recognize an employee
It’s a smile, a story, compassion, patience. It’s a listening ear, comfort or understanding when you call us or send a message through MyChart. It’s help, kindness and support through unchartered challenges.
Help us highlight stories of hope during COVID-19 by sharing your story of how a member of our team has given you hope and help during this time. After you complete our share your story form, we may reach out for more details to share your story online.
Your blood donation will help ensure an adequate blood supply for our patients during this critical time. Because COVID-19 is not a bloodborne disease, it is safe to donate blood during this time. There has been no evidence that COVID-19 could be transmitted or contracted through a blood donation or a blood transfusion.
All blood donations at MD Anderson Blood Donor Center locations are being held by appointment only.
Donate to the Caring Fund
Launched in 2011, the Caring Fund helps MD Anderson employees recover from disasters. Over the years, the fund has aided more than 1,000 employees through dollars generously donated by MD Anderson employees and private donors across the country.
The Caring Fund now has been expanded to help employees cover unexpected expenses (such as temporary housing, child care expenses or transportation) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Donate today.
Encourage others to stay at home
Our cancer patients are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19. To slow the coronavirus' spread, we must all do our part by practicing social distancing and staying home.
Remind others why it's vital to stay home by decorating our "stay home for cancer patients" coloring sheet. Then, post your art on social media for your friends and family to see, tagging MD Anderson. You can even hang your picture in your window.
Stories of Hope
As we all face unprecedented changes and challenges brought by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, kindness matters more than ever. With social distancing and other proactive measures in place, MD Anderson employees have taken the initiative to find new and creative ways to show they care for our cancer patients, who are uniquely vulnerable to COVID-19. Here are a few examples.
Kind words and healthy habits to slow the spread of coronavirus
Washing your hands often and properly is one of the most important things we can each do to protect against the novel coronavirus. To encourage good hand hygiene, MD Anderson’s Specialty Pharmacy sent a hand-signed letter and mini-bottle of hand sanitizer to all patients who received prescription deliveries in April.
After reading a Women’s Health article featuring an MD Anderson patient who specifically mentioned her fears about medicine supply chains being affected by the pandemic, Megan McGugan, Pharm.D., a manager in the Specialty Pharmacy, knew she wanted to do something special for the patients that depend on specialty medicines.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about her concerns,” McGugan says. “I thought if she was feeling this way, there’s no doubt other patients are feeling the same way. I knew we needed to do something to reassure our patients that we will be here for them through this challenging time.”
McGugan and team created a short letter to share best practices for hand hygiene and to remind patients that the Specialty Pharmacy team is available to answer any questions. All six members of the team signed each letter, which was accompanied by hand sanitizer left over from a previous project. The team mailed out about 700 letters total and received heartfelt thanks from many patients and caregivers.
Our cancer patients need approximately 200 units of red blood cells and 600 units of platelets each day. MD Anderson Blood Bank depends on local blood and platelet donors to meet this need. And, this need is especially great right now during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Most blood and plasma donations are used to help our patients with blood cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma. Some replace blood lost during surgery. But all blood donations are critically important to our cancer patients’ recovery.
Here are 12 questions that I commonly hear from potential blood donors.
Who can donate blood to the MD Anderson Blood Bank?
Healthy individuals who weigh more than 110 pounds, are at least 17 years old and meet the basic criteria. But potential donors must also meet other requirements to qualify.
For instance, women who are currently pregnant are not eligible to donate blood. Neither is anyone who has ever had cancer before — except for two very specific types: basal cell carcinoma and cervical cancer in-situ.
Can I give blood if I have chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure?
Can I still give blood if I’m taking medication?
Yes. Certain medications may disqualify you from donating, but the list is updated frequently. That’s why we encourage you to contact us first if you’re interested, instead of just assuming you can’t give. Most medications are acceptable.
For instance, the blood thinner Plavix used to require a 30-day wait, across the board. Now, it only requires a two-week wait for someone donating platelets. There’s no whole-blood restriction.
Can I still donate if I’ve been in the military?
Yes, you are now eligible to donate. Previously, those who lived in U.S. military bases in Europe were not allowed to donate. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently changed this. Our military members can now donate blood and help support our cancer patients.
Can I still donate if I have traveled outside the U.S.?
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, anyone who has traveled internationally must wait 14 days before attempting to donate, in case they were exposed to the virus.
New FDA guidelines have reduced the deferral period for malaria-risk travel from 12 months to three months.
Additional details on temporary and permanent disqualifications related to travel can be found on our website.
Is it safe to donate blood during the coronavirus pandemic? What if I’ve had COVID-19?
Yes, it’s safe for both donors and recipients, even if you’ve recovered from COVID-19. It is a respiratory virus, not a blood-borne disease. And there’s no evidence that COVID-19 can be contracted through a blood donation or transmitted through a blood transfusion.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the blood donation process, MD Anderson requires Blood Bank employees and donors to wear masks. We’re also only accepting blood donations by appointment to ensure social distancing and limit the number of people in close proximity at any given time.
How long do I need to wait after having a cold, the flu or a cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection to donate blood?
CMV is so common that we feel it’s a waste of time to test for it, but by removing white blood cells from our donations, we provide CMV safe blood components. Many people are CMV positive and don’t even know it, because they don’t have any symptoms.
Like COVID-19, colds and the flu are respiratory viruses, so they are not spread through transfusions. Generally speaking, if you are feeling well and healthy right now and have been free of symptoms for at least a week, you are welcome to donate.
Where can I donate blood for MD Anderson patients?
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, our location at 2555 Holly Hall is our only Texas Medical Center location currently open to the public. But a mobile unit regularly holds blood drives at MD Anderson’s locations in West Houston, The Woodlands, League City and Sugar Land, and throughout the Greater Houston area. Find a blood drive near you.
While they're not open due to COVID-19 restrictions, MD
normally accepts blood donations at two other locations in the Texas Medical Center. One is on the second floor of our Main Building, near elevator D. The other is on the second floor of the Mays Clinic, near the Tree Sculpture.
Can I donate blood to another organization and have it transferred to MD Anderson?
No. Blood donors must give directly to MD Anderson. The only way to ensure blood goes to MD Anderson patients is to donate blood at one of our MD Anderson Blood Bank locations or through an MD Anderson community blood drive.
Why is there almost as great a need for platelets as for whole blood?
Cancer patients tend to require more platelets than whole blood donations. When patients develop a dangerously low platelet count due to chemotherapy or a stem cell transplant, there’s always a risk that they could start bleeding spontaneously. So, we provide transfusions of platelets to prevent that.
We also give platelets to patients who are already bleeding. Some conditions — such as acute promyelocytic leukemia — require patients to have higher platelet counts before they can undergo certain procedures, such as endoscopies, biopsies and lumbar punctures. So, they need platelets, too.
How often can I donate blood? What about platelets?
You can donate whole blood every eight weeks. You can donate platelets every 48 hours — up to 24 times a year.
What’s the one thing you want people to know about donating blood?
Don’t just assume you can’t donate. A lot of people think, “Well, I’ve got high blood pressure.” Or, “I’ve got diabetes, so I can’t donate.” And that’s not necessarily true. The list of medications and travel restrictions changes all the time.
The best way to find out for sure is to call the MD Anderson Blood Bank at 713-792-7777. We look forward to seeing you.
Fernando Martinez, M.D., is a pathologist at MD Anderson and Medical Director of Transfusion Services and Donor Operations.
Schedule an appointment to donate blood online by calling 713-792-7777.
Natalie Sanchez knows that entering a treatment center like MD Anderson for the first time can be very intimidating for a newly diagnosed cancer patient.
“Most patients bring family members or friends along for support,” says Sanchez, a nurse manager at MD Anderson West Houston. “But now that MD Anderson has adopted a ‘no visitors’ policy to protect patients from the coronavirus, they’re having to go to appointments alone. It's sad to see them walk through the door by themselves.”
Sidewalk notes provide encouragement during coronavirus pandemic
Sanchez and her co-workers have devised some creative ways to lift patients’ spirits and lessen their anxieties during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Take, for instance, the colorful sidewalk chalk creations that greet patients before they enter the building.
Some drawings are whimsical, like the bumble bee with the “bee happy” message, or the bright yellow star that urges patients to “keep shining.” Others offer notes of encouragement printed in block letters, like “stay strong,” or simply, “hope.”
Sanchez and business manager Jacque Andrepont were the first to decorate the sidewalk, with help from their spouses and children. Now, others are pitching in.
“Our patients love it,” Sanchez says. “They go out of their way not to step on the drawings.”
The artwork has inspired some patients to paint rocks with encouraging messages like “never give up,” and “spread kindness,” which they place in the hospital’s colorful gardens.
“Small things can turn into beautiful moments,” Sanchez says.
Due to our response to COVID-19, all blood donations at MD Anderson
Blood Donor Center locations are being held by appointment only.