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Heartland Blood Centers get rebrand

Milwaukee-based Versiti CEO talks about importance of donating blood

Chris Miskel remembers growing up with a sister diagnosed with diabetes and watching her get a shot with every meal of insulin, which his family kept in the refrigerator.

Miskel, 44, has since embarked on a career to help patients get the access they need to health care, and now is the chief executive officer of Versiti Inc., the Milwaukee-based company that’s rebranding Heartland Blood Centers, including the one at 2428 Sycamore Road in DeKalb. Now known as the Versiti Blood Center of Illinois, the 13 locations will continue to take in those willing to donate blood, and in turn save lives through Versiti’s mission of discovery, diagnosis and treatment.

“To me, health care is very real,” Miskel said. “I grew up with a sister who has Type 1 diabetes. She was seven years older than me and I almost didn’t get to meet her because she went into a diabetic coma when she was 7.”

Miskel’s been in the health care field for more than 20 years. He grew up in Indiana, graduated form Butler University and began working 7 miles from campus for a company that produced insulin.

“Versiti came later in my career,” Miskel said. “Once I got to know more about it, it really touched me how we’re impacting and saving these lives every single day.”

Versiti’s 13 locations in Illinois, formerly Heartland Blood Centers, serve more than 70 hospitals in the state, which annually collect 150,000 blood product donations, Miskel said.

Illinois is one of five Midwest region states that are getting the re-brand treatment, along with Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Miskel said the re-branding also allows the blood centers to expand their network of product so they can serve more patients.

Versiti centers also genotype their donors, meaning they document the DNA sequencing of each donor’s blood in the event a donation that should match, such as two of the same type, doesn’t seem to work in a transfusion.

“There could be a patient with sickle cell disease in northern Illinois, and they need a very rare match,” Miskel said. “We’ve invested in genotyping our donors. So if we’re treating a patient and their body is attacking blood they think should match, we can go to the genotype library, find a special unit and send is across the bi-state region.”

Those wishing to donate must be at least 17 years old. The process for whole blood donations usually takes about an hour, Miskel said, although the blood collection itself is about 10 minutes. The donation process includes registration, a brief medical screening, blood collection and refreshments.

For those wishing to donate platelets, the process can take two hours. Platelets are blood cells that help the blood form clots, and are vital for patients battling cancer, receiving organ or bone marrow transplants, are victims of traumatic injuries and undergoing open-heart surgery.

Platelets can be stored for only five days, Miskel said, so the need for donations is significantly higher than blood alone.

During what’s called apheresis collection, blood is taken from a donor’s arm and then run through a centrifuge to separate the platelet cells. The blood is then returned to the donor.

He said it’s important for people to know the “why” of donating, and educate donors on the importance of blood.

“One in three people will need blood over the course of their lifetime,” Miskel said. “Our donors are lifelines to what we do so we treat them as heroes.”

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