San Antonio nurse saves lives through blood and stem cell donations

For the past 21 years, local nurse gives blood, platelets, stem cells, in effort to help save lives in South Texas
April 9, 2019

As the country celebrates National Volunteer Week on April 7-13, the South Texas Blood & Tissue Center (STBTC) is honoring its volunteers for their blood and stem cell donations, including one of its own nurses. Dot Ward has dedicated the last 21 years to saving lives, not just through her work, but also through her generosity as a blood, platelet and stem cell donor.

To date, Ward has visited STBTC as a donor 51 times and has donated 6.3 gallons of blood and platelets. In 2004, she also gave a lifesaving stem cell donation for a leukemia patient in need of a transplant.

Ward looks back on her history of donation and volunteerism with humility.

“I do it because I would only expect the same from someone else,” Ward said. “To give someone a little more life to play with their children, or to actually be able to go home to their loved ones is a humbling, rewarding experience.”

With a 21-year career in the blood donation industry, Ward understands the importance of committing to a regular donation. She was a phlebotomist for 16 years at STBTC. After a two-year break to pursue her license in vocational nursing (LVN), Ward became an apheresis nurse at GenCure. Both organizations are subsidiaries of regenerative medicine nonprofit BioBridge Global. 

“Knowing the importance of the blood we provide to the community, and the shortages we often face, it is my duty to help give back,” Ward said.

Ward’s experience proved valuable during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, when STBTC experienced a high volume of donors. Though she was no longer a phlebotomist, Ward volunteered to help donors sign in.

“I felt I needed to help wherever I could,” Ward said.

On top of her commitment to donating blood and platelets, Ward also donated stem cells to a 19-year-old leukemia patient in 2004. Marrow or stem cell donations are often needed for patients facing blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.

Her donation day, which is set based on the needs of the patient, fell on her mother’s birthday.

“We actually celebrated my mom’s birthday with me giving stem cells to give someone else another birthday,” Ward said.

For patients with blood cancers and diseases, a marrow or stem cell transplant is often their only hope for a cure. However, finding a donor is often difficult because it requires matching a specific set of genetic markers, human leukocyte antigens (HLA), that are inherited from a person’s ethnic or racial background.

“Back in 2004, knowing that the amount of minorities on the registry were slim, it was a very humbling experience knowing I was possibly this recipient’s only chance,” Ward said.

Ward’s stem cell recipient is now in her 30s, leading a healthy life. While Ward has corresponded with her recipient over the years, she hopes to one day visit Great Britain to meet her.

For people considering joining the Be the Match Registry, Ward has simple advice.

“Do it,” she said. “You would only expect the same from someone else if it was your loved one, so it’s only right for you to do it as well.”