Alex Heekin isn’t a Hoxworth employee, but her impact on the blood center is enormous.
As a Cincinnati native, she’s been donating with Hoxworth Blood Center since 2004 and has given over three gallons of precious O- red cells; she works at the Cancer Center at the University of Cincinnati, so she knows that many cancer patients require transfusions during treatment. She even credits blood donations for saving the lives of several family members.
But beyond donating, Alex has taken her commitment to Hoxworth’s mission a step further by becoming an official Hoxworth volunteer. Not only that, she helped Hoxworth during a difficult and unprecedented time, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though Alex has been a donor for years, her journey as a volunteer started quite recently.
“I started to volunteer for Hoxworth after I went to UC’s 10th Annual Campus Services Showcase in May 2019. I have been donating blood to Hoxworth for many years so I stopped by their booth to see what other opportunities they offer,” Alex recalls. “It was great to see that there are ways to be involved that don’t require an 8-week waiting period.”
Giving back to Hoxworth is important to Alex, because she knows firsthand how important transfusions are for local patients.
“Blood donations have deeply impacted my life,” she says. “My mom had to receive several transfusions during her cancer treatment when she became neutropenic. At other times during her treatment, she required plasma. I have no doubt that these donations saved her life. My father needed blood transfusions following his three hip surgeries. Finally, my soon-to-be brother-in-law has recently been diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndrome which is a type of blood cancer. He has already received blood and I expect that he will continue to. I am so grateful for all the people who donated the blood products my family received, and this is the best way I know to thank them.”
After on-boarding in 2019, Alex began volunteering as a driver for the blood center, responsible for picking up blood products from drives and donor centers and bringing them back to Hoxworth’s labs. She found the experience to be immediately rewarding.
“Hoxworth makes volunteering so easy. I am grateful to Jamie and Connie (of the Volunteer Services department) who have created such a streamlined process for volunteers,” she exclaims. “There is no wasted time, which can be really rare with volunteering. Volunteers at Hoxworth are trusted and given autonomy which makes me feel like a valuable part of the team. Other than that, I love seeing new parts of the city, meeting new people and developing relationships within Hoxworth.”
Hoxworth boasts a small army of committed volunteers, who are trusted with a number of tasks: Helping out at blood drives, operating the café area at donor centers, ferrying blood products to the labs, and assisting with administrative tasks. Many of Hoxworth’s weekday volunteers are retired, and have the time during the day that young professionals often do not have. But when COVID-19 began circulating in the Tri-State area, many volunteers were suddenly not able to help, as the novel virus posed too much of a risk for those who are older or have pre-existing conditions.
Enter Alex, who immediately stepped up. “I am usually only able to drive on weekends due to my work schedule,” she says. “However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been working from home. This has allowed me to be able to drive a lot more than I usually do. I knew that some of the drives that high-risk volunteers would have done needed to be covered.”
Between March and August, Alex was vital to the Hoxworth volunteer team. “I was able to volunteer for 50 drives, which is much more than I would have ordinarily. I am really grateful that my flexible schedule allowed for me to do this!” she says. “Several of my other regular volunteer commitments were canceled due to COVID, so it was important to me increase my participation where I could. Luckily, Hoxworth provided that opportunity.”
According to Jamie Glahn, Manager of the Volunteer Services department, Alex has been indispensable.
“Quite simply, Alex is amazing! She was crucial to Hoxworth during the first part of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Hoxworth asked volunteers in certain demographics (thought to be more susceptible to the virus) to quarantine in their home for a period of time,” he enthuses. “Along with working in a full-time position with the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, Alex attempted to perform as many blood pickups and deliveries she could around her work schedule. Alex not only volunteers as a driver, but also attempts to be available for blood drives and special event volunteering as well. Hoxworth Blood Center is very lucky to have Alex!”
But Alex doesn’t spend her time volunteering for praise or recognition. In fact, it’s quite the opposite—she was reluctant to even share her experiences for this story! She is just happy that she’s doing something to help her community.
“For me, volunteering for Hoxworth has been a truly wonderful and rewarding experience, and has become such a part of my life that I can’t imagine not doing it,” she says. “It is flexible, which is great with my changing schedule. It gets me out into the community to see new areas of the Tri-State and interact with new people. Finally, it is really easy to see the good that is being done.”
“When I carry in a cooler or two of blood, it is clear where it is going and the reach that it will have. I know that I am oversimplifying this, but it is a gift to do the math—each donation can save up to 3 lives and each cooler can contain 30-35 donations. It’s impossible not to be grateful to have even a small role in the power of those numbers.”
In fact, Alex’s commitment to Hoxworth will be present in her upcoming nuptials. She and her fiancé, Eric, have been together since 2014 and were engaged in October of 2019. When they say “I do” in October of 2020, they’re hoping that instead of place settings or linens, their wedding guests will give something a little more meaningful.
“Eric and I were uncertain about having a traditional registry from the beginning of our engagement, since we have both lived on our own and we have accumulated plenty of things,” she says. That’s where Hoxworth comes into the picture (or rather, into the registry).
“We thought that it would be a great alternative to ‘register’ for causes that are the most meaningful to us. We hope that this still gives our family & friends a sense of contributing to what is important to our life,” she continues. “When he is able, Eric joins me on weekend blood drives. It has become something that we enjoy doing together and look forward to. Since it is something significant that we share, it was an easy decision to share with our loved ones. And since we both have family members who have either received or are receiving blood products, anything we can do to support donations (blood or financial) is really important to us.”
Volunteering with Hoxworth is a source of joy for Alex, and she hopes that others in the community will consider joining her if they want to make a difference in their community.
“Donating blood and volunteering for a blood center is a no-brainer. My life has been greatly impacted by the need for blood and I see this as my way to give back,” she finishes. “Any way that you volunteer to Hoxworth can have such a tremendous impact on the community. It is great to be able to donate blood, but there are so many other worthwhile opportunities.”