Moms-to-be can give the gift of healing through placenta donation

October 23rd, 2014
Jill S. decided to donate post-natal tissue to help patients in need.

Jill S. decided to donate post-natal tissue to help patients in need.

Many Western New Yorkers know about Unyts’ role in organ, eye, tissue and blood donation, but fewer are aware that Unyts accepts post-natal tissue donations at Mercy Hospital and Sisters of Charity Hospital. The post-natal tissues, including the placenta, can be donated when a cesarean section delivery is planned. The amniotic membrane is then processed into wound-healing grafts.

“These grafts are pretty powerful; they not only have anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, they also suppress pain, expedite recovery and reduce scar tissue,” explained Unyts Eye & Tissue Clinical Liaison Bonnie Scioli. “They are often used for burn victims in addition to skin grafts. They enhance the body’s own cellular healing mechanisms.” The amnion is also frequently used in ophthalmic and dental procedures as foundation material for soft tissue regrowth, and as biological dressing on post-operative surgical sites.

Unyts recently talked to two local moms who took part in the program.

“I had two previous spinal surgeries and I had heard that the placenta could be used to help with those surgeries,” said Jill S. “I wanted to give back because I had such a great spinal surgeon that I wanted to help out any way I could.”

“I have a 2-year-old and I’d never heard of the program before, so when I was educated about the benefits of the placenta being donated, it was a no-brainer,” said Kathleen D. “It can be used for so many good things and it’s almost wasteful to not donate. There is no risk and no harm to the baby or the mom.”

The process is safe, simple, painless, free and rewarding:

Safe: The placenta isn’t recovered until after the baby is delivered. The process poses no risk to the mother or baby.

Simple: When a mother consents to the donation, she will answer a series of questions regarding her medical and social history to ensure the safety of the tissue.

Painless: The donation process requires no additional surgical procedure. There is only a routine blood specimen collection.

Free: Any expenses related to donation are paid for by Unyts.

Rewarding: The donation of post-natal tissues can become a priceless gift to change others’ lives for the better.

“We, as moms, are giving life…why not return the favor to help others in need?” Jill asked.

A form for expectant mothers who would like to donate is online at

If you’d like to donate but your physician isn’t a participating member of the Unyts Placenta Donation program, please contact the Unyts Donor Referral Center at (716) 853-6667 ext. 5 to receive further information.

Protect your eyes: improper costume contacts can cause harm

October 17th, 2014
Image: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Image: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Halloween is coming and it might be tempting to make your costume cooler by wearing contacts that change your eye color or otherwise alter the appearance of your eyes. However, eye care professionals and government officials warn that improperly fitted contacts and decorative lenses that are sold (illegally) over the counter can cause lasting harm.

“It’s important to have a medical eye and vision examination from your optometrist to be sure you are a good candidate for contact lenses and your cornea can safely tolerate the lenses,” according to the American Optometric Association. “Your eye doctor will also make sure your lenses fit properly and teach you how to safely care for your lenses.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that decorative contact lenses are not cosmetics or over-the-counter merchandise, they are medical devices regulated by the FDA. Places that advertise them as cosmetics or sell them without a prescription are breaking the law.

The FDA also warns consumers that lenses must be properly fit by a medical professional, as a poor fit can cause serious eye damage, including:

  • scratches on the cornea (the clear dome of tissue over the iris – the part of the eye that gives you your eye color)
  • corneal infection (an ulcer on the cornea)
  • conjunctivitis (pink eye)
  • decreased vision
  • blindness

The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers these guidelines for safely wearing costume contact lenses:

  • Get an eye exam from a licensed eye care professional such as an ophthalmologist — an eye medical doctor — who will measure each eye and talk to you about proper contact lens care.
  • Obtain a valid prescription that includes the brand name, lens measurements, and expiration date.
  • Purchase the colored contact lenses from an eye product retailer who asks for a prescription.
  • Follow the contact lens care directions for cleaning, disinfecting, and wearing the lenses.
  • Never share contact lenses with another person.
  • Get follow up exams with your eye care provider.
  • If you notice redness, swelling, excessive discharge, pain or discomfort from wearing contact lenses, remove the lenses and seek immediate medical attention from an ophthalmologist.

Unyts presents awards at annual Gift of Life dinner

October 7th, 2014


Unyts held its Gift of Life Dinner at Kleinhans Music Hall on Thursday, Oct. 2. The annual event marks the successes of Western New York’s only organ, eye, tissue and community blood center, honors the people and groups who have contributed to that success, and raises funds for the non-profit organization’s future endeavors.

“We have saved and transformed thousands of lives through organ, eye, tissue and blood donation,” said Unyts President and CEO Mark J. Simon. “The differences we have made in the lives of individuals and the healthcare landscape of Western New York have been made possible by the generosity of the community, as exemplified by those we honor tonight.”

Jody Lomeo with Unyts Board Chairman Richard A. Grimm III.

Jody Lomeo with Unyts Board Chairman Richard A. Grimm III.

Jody L. Lomeo assumed the role of president and CEO of both Kaleida Health and the Great Lakes Health System of Western New York in April of this year, after serving as interim president and CEO for several months. From 2009 through 2014, Lomeo was CEO of ECMC. Before that, he was a member of the Erie County Medical Center Corporation board of directors. Through his leadership, Lomeo has advanced the Donate Life mission and the work of Unyts.

New Era is one of Unyts’ leading corporate partners, and has been holding company drives since the beginning of Unyts’ blood program. The company also provides caps which have proven to be very popular with Unyts donors at special events and drives. New Era has grown from its humble beginnings as a tightly-knit family business in Buffalo to an international lifestyle brand with an authentic sports heritage. Best known for being the official on-field cap for Major League Baseball and the National Football League, New Era is the brand of choice not only for its headwear collection, but also for its accessories and apparel lines for men, women and youth.

Jarrod Atkinson accepts his award from Unyts.

Jarrod Atkinson accepts his award from Unyts.

Jarrod A. Atkinson, RN, BSN, has served as Mercy Hospital of Buffalo’s liaison to Unyts for four years. During that time he has been a valuable resource to Unyts on both the clinical and administrative fronts, helping Unyts to improve its processes. Atkinson was named a director in Patient Care Services at Mercy Hospital in August, and has been manager of the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit. Atkinson is part of a group that meets every other month to share data and facilitate the relationship between the hospital and Unyts in its role as the Organ Procurement Organization for Western New York.

Lori Ann Conti with Unyts Board Chairman Richard A. Grimm III.

Lori Ann Conti with Unyts Board Chairman Richard A. Grimm III.

Lori Ann Conti has been the advisor for Warriors for Life, the Donate Life Club at Cheektowaga Central High School, since it began in 2008. Her passion, drive and creativity inspire students and the wider school community. The Warriors for Life host several blood drives each year, with club members donating and encouraging others to give and join the organ donor registry. Conti’s son J.T. was a heart transplant recipient in 2001 at the age of 16. Though he died in 2010, J.T.’s legacy lives on. A large Donate Life mural painted at Cheektowaga Central High School in 2011 is dedicated to J.T.

Ron and Roxanne Gabbey of Akron with Unyts Board Chairman Richard A. Grimm III.

Ron and Roxanne Gabbey of Akron with Unyts Board Chairman Richard A. Grimm III.

The Gabbey family accepted an award on behalf of all donor families. Tyler Gabbey died in 2009 at the age of 18. Tyler had spoken of how he wanted to donate his organs if anything were to ever happen to him. When a car accident took his life, the Gabbey family honored his wishes, and Tyler was a cornea and tissue donor. Since Ty’s death, the Gabbeys have spread the word about the importance of donation and registered new organ and tissue donors. They have supported Unyts’ work through blood drives and by making Unyts a beneficiary of the annual Ty Gabbey Memorial Golf Outing.

First time Unyts blood donor glad for the chance to give back

October 6th, 2014

Whether you once needed someone’s blood or you’re just a giving person, we want our blood donors to know how much they’re appreciated. That’s what “Share Your Story” is all about, and we’re highlighting a different donor, recipient or supporter each month.

Shannon Sharp

Shannon Sharp is glad to know that her blood will help patients in Western New York.

Shannon Sharp is glad to know that her blood will help patients in Western New York.

When Unyts held a blood drive at the city campus of Bryant & Stratton College in August, Shannon Sharp knew she wanted to give. The reason was a personal one: several years ago, Shannon’s mother was hit by a car and needed lifesaving surgery at ECMC. “I can honestly say that without the availability of blood through donations my mother might not have made it,” Shannon said. “This is why I chose to donate to Unyts and will continue to do so.”

Shannon is a mother of four and now has a beautiful granddaughter. She’s studying for a degree in medical assisting. The August drive was the first time she’d ever given blood.

“My experience with Unyts has been excellent,” Shannon said. “Everyone at the blood drive was helpful and explained the process in detail.” She felt reassured that it would not be painful and was glad to know that her blood would help patients in Western New York. “The best part of donating is the knowledge that I am able to help someone the way that others were willing to help in our time of need.”

While she was at the drive, Shannon learned that Unyts can also collect double red cell donations. Red blood cells are the most needed blood component, and they are often the difference between life and death for trauma victims and those undergoing surgery. People with anemia, low hematocrit levels due to cancer or kidney diseases, and sickle cell disease also need red blood cells. A double red cell donation allows a person to give twice as many red cells as he or she would during a whole blood donation. Shannon made an appointment to give double reds at the Unyts blood donation center at Southgate Plaza.

“I am looking forward to my future donations at Unyts and knowing that I will be helping the people in Buffalo that need it like my mother did,” Shannon said.

If you have been touched by the Gift of Life through blood donation, or donate for a reason you feel passionate about, we’d love for you to:


Honoring Our Heroes: Joe Marks

October 1st, 2014

MarksJoeJoseph G. Marks, Jr., of Wheatfield, known to friends as “Big Joe,” became a donor upon his passing on July 1, 2012. This remembrance was shared by his wife, Kathryn.

Joe was 6’5”, so he easily towered over everyone in a room but that was no comparison to the size of his heart. Joe was the kindest, most gentle person I had ever met.

MarksWeddingJoe was a huge sports fan. He loved his Buffalo Bills, Sabres and the Cleveland Indians. In fact, we named our puppy Slider after the mascot for the Indians.

Joe was always the person who could make you laugh. He was so funny and had this laugh that would make you laugh even harder! His jokes turned in to five-minute stories that had you hook, line and sinker.

Joe would do anything to make sure everyone else was taken care, part of the reason why I was the luckiest wife on the planet. We had the greatest years of our life together and I miss him beyond words. But, I’ve never been more proud of a choice he made by being an organ donor.

Every year on the anniversary of his passing I ask our friends and family to go out and commit a “Random Act of Kindness.” It’s something to keep his spirit alive and it takes a little of the sting away on that sad day. We’ve had friends make donations, adopt an abused animal, pay for others’ coffee, but my favorite is all the friends and family who signed up to be organ donors because of my husband’s selfless act.

Marks Combo

Each month, Unyts pays tribute to organ, eye and tissue donors. It seemed fitting to call this feature “Honoring our Heroes” as these donors are heroes to their families and to the people who have received transplants.


If you would like to nominate a loved one who gave the gift of life, please click the button above. Unyts will contact you when your loved one is chosen for the Hero of the Month.


No wait to donate if you get the flu vaccine

September 29th, 2014

Whether it is the nasal spray or the shot, getting the flu vaccine won’t delay you from giving blood, so long as you feel healthy. You can even donate blood on the same day that you are vaccinated.

bloodbagThe Centers for Disease Control recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. “While there are many different flu viruses, the seasonal flu vaccine is designed to protect against the main flu viruses that research suggests will cause the most illness during the upcoming flu season,” the CDC says. “People should begin getting vaccinated soon after flu vaccine becomes available, ideally by October, to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins.”

In addition to making sure that you are in generally good health when you go to donate, there are some healthy choices you can make to improve your donation process: make sure to eat a well-balanced meal before you go; drink plenty of water – hydration is important; and getting a good night sleep prior to donating also helps.

Each year, many would-be blood donors become sick and need to cancel their appointments. If you feel well, you can help make up for those who are hit by the flu and can’t donate. Ensuring an adequate blood supply is one more reason to get a vaccinated.

Unyts celebra el Mes Nacional de la Herencia Hispana / Unyts celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month

September 26th, 2014


Unyts celebra el Mes Nacional de la Herencia Hispana para honrar la generosidad de los donantes y receptores de trasplante hispanos al mismo tiempo que inspira a más personas a inscribirse como donantes de órganos, córneas y tejidos.

Unyts celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month to honor the generosity of Hispanic donors and transplant recipients while inspiring more people to register as organ, eye and tissue donors.

Miguel Santos grabó un anuncio de Unyts hablando de su trasplante de córnea. Oprima en la foto para escuchar el comercial. / Miguel Santos recorded a commercial for Unyts sharing the story of his cornea transplant. Click the photo to hear it.

Miguel Santos grabó un anuncio de Unyts hablando de su trasplante de córnea. Oprima en la foto para escuchar el comercial. / Miguel Santos recorded a commercial for Unyts sharing the story of his cornea transplant. Click the photo to hear it.

El año pasado, las vidas de más de 4,000 hispanos en Estados Unidos se salvaron a través de la donación de órganos y trasplantes. Sin embargo, hay más de 22,000 personas de origen hispano a la espera de trasplantes de órganos necesarios para salvarles la vida. Muchos miles más necesitan el poder curativo de los tejidos y el trasplante de córnea.

Last year, the lives of more than 4,000 Hispanics in the United States were saved through organ donation and transplantation. Yet, there are more than 19,000 individuals of Hispanic heritage still waiting for lifesaving organ transplants. Many thousands more require the healing power of tissue and corneal transplantation.

En 2013, 4,133 pacientes hispanos recibieron trasplantes de órganos; mientras que hubo 1,940 donantes hispanos. Lamentablemente, 18 personas mueren cada día debido a que el trasplante que es tan críticamente necesario no llega a tiempo. El éxito del trasplante a menudo mejora con la compatibilidad de los órganos entre los miembros del mismo grupo étnico y racial. La necesidad de más donantes es clara. Inscribir su decisión de convertirse en donante e informar a su familia es la forma más efectiva de asegurarse de que puede salvar vidas a través de la donación.

In 2013, 4,133 Hispanic patients received organ transplants; while there were 1,940 Hispanic donors. Sadly, 18 people die every day because the transplant they so critically needed does not come in time. Successful transplantation often is enhanced by the matching of organs between members of the same ethnic and racial group. The need for more donors is clear. Registering your decision to become a donor and informing your family is the most effective way to ensure you can save lives through donation.

Para inscribirse como donante y para obtener más información sobre cómo participar, descargue este folleto. Para registrarse en línea, visite

To register as a donor, download this form. To register online, visit

Para información del Concilio de Herencia Hispana del Oeste de Nueva York, visite

For information on the Hispanic Heritage Council of Western New York, visit


Blood donations can help patients with sickle cell disease

September 20th, 2014

Sickle cell disease is a blood disorder that affects red cells. September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month and a good time to note the ways in which blood donation can help patients.

Figure A shows normal red blood cells flowing freely in a blood vessel. The inset image shows a cross-section of a normal red blood cell with normal hemoglobin. Figure B shows abnormal, sickled red blood cells blocking blood flow in a blood vessel. The inset image shows a cross-section of a sickle cell with abnormal (sickle) hemoglobin forming abnormal strands. – Image from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Image from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

“Healthy red blood cells are round, and they move through small blood vessels to carry oxygen to all parts of the body. In someone who has [sickle cell disease], the red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a ‘sickle,’ ” explains the CDC. Those sickle cells don’t last as long as regular cells, causing a shortage of red blood cells. The sickle cells can also get stuck in small blood vessels, clogging blood flow. “This can cause pain and other serious problems such as infection, acute chest syndrome and stroke.”

Sickle cell anemia is the most common form of sickle cell disease, which is an inherited disorder. Sickle cell anemia affects 70,000–100,000 people in the United States, mainly African Americans. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the disease occurs in about 1 out of every 500 African American births and 1 out of every 36,000 Hispanic American births.

The transfusion of donated blood is among the treatments for people with sickle cell disease. “Blood transfusions help benefit sickle cell disease patients by reducing recurrent pain crises, risk of stroke and other complications,” states the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America. Patients who receive repeated transfusions can accumulate iron in the body, and may need treatment to avoid iron overload.

A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that regular blood transfusions reduced the risk of silent stokes and other strokes in children with sickle cell anemia. Silent strokes do not show immediate symptoms but can still cause damage to the brain. Silent strokes are believed to affect one in three children with sickle cell anemia.

Read about Naliah, a 7-year-old who receives regular blood transfusions at Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo to treat sickle cell disease.


September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

September 13th, 2014
Image from

Click the photo to read about Kallie Swan, a 2 1/2 year-old in remission from Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Kallie is treated at Women & Children’s Hospital and has been helped by blood donated through Unyts.

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and people and organizations in Western New York and across the country are working to share information and provide support in the fight against childhood cancer. An estimated 15,780 children and adolescents under the age of 20 will be diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. in 2014, and 1,960 will die of the disease, according to a report by the American Cancer Society.

Though childhood cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death among children and adolescents, the National Cancer Institute says that the overall outlook for children with cancer has greatly improved over the past 50 years.

“In 1975, just over 50 percent of children diagnosed with cancer before age 20 years survived at least 5 years. In 2004-2010, more than 80 percent of children diagnosed with cancer before age 20 years survived at least 5 years,” notes a fact sheet on

The fact sheet also adds, “Although survival rates for most childhood cancers have improved in recent decades, the improvement has been especially dramatic for a few cancers, particularly acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the most common childhood cancer. Improved treatments introduced beginning in the 1970s raised the 5-year survival rate for childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia from less than 10 percent in the 1960s to about 90 percent in 2003-2009. Survival rates for childhood non-Hodgkin lymphoma have also increased dramatically, from less than 50 percent in the late 1970s to 85 percent in 2003-2009.”

Donated blood can help cancer patients in a variety of ways. Platelets are needed by leukemia and cancer patients. Red blood cells are needed for patients with anemia, which can result from internal bleeding caused by some types of cancer. The American Cancer Society states, “Cancer can also lower blood counts by affecting organs such as the kidneys and spleen, which help keep enough cells in the blood.” Cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can also affect blood counts, while surgery can require patients to receive transfusions for blood loss.

To schedule a donation of whole blood, double red cells or platelets, visit

More information about childhood cancer is available from the National Cancer Institute, the American Childhood Cancer Organization and the American Cancer Society.

Donate Life Walk celebrates hope and heroes

September 8th, 2014

Walk14-crowdHundreds of donor family members, transplant recipients, friends, families and Unyts supporters came to Delaware Park on Saturday, Sept. 6 for the fourth annual Donate Life Walk. Despite ominous clouds and a little rain, a crowd estimated at over 700 turned out for the walk and related activities.

An album of photos from the walk is posted on the Unyts Facebook page.

Participants could honor a person or cause for which they chose to walk by decorating t-shirts with a team name or individual message. Many created cards noting “The Reason I Walk” sharing messages, pictures and memories.

Walk14-pattersonFollowing the non-competitive walk, donor families planted shrubs and perennials around the Donate Life memorial grove in Delaware Park. The grove is a sanctuary and place of reflection for donor families, donors, recipients and all supporters of the Gift of Life.

Walk14-planting1The day included a picnic lunch, music DJ’d by Troy Buchannan, and a Kid’s Zone with crafts and educational activities for youngsters. Many participants also chose to give blood on the Donate Life Express Bus, which collected 19 units of whole blood and two double red cell donations.

BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York brought the Healthy Zone Cruiser and offered a chance for hula hooping, jump rope and other healthy activities. Tim Hortons was also on hand, providing coffee, hot chocolate and Timbits.

Walk14-kidsAmong the teams registered to walk were: Andrew’s Army, Awesome, Because of Brandon, Blood Red Brothers & Sisters by Donations, Carry On Kyle, Cassie’s Crew, Clifford, Dave Rice, Donating is PHHun, Dondre, ECMC nurses, Friends of Ed Kostek, Future Leaders Investment Club, G.I. Joes, Garrasi Team, Golden Hearts, Grant Marin, Hamilton Pride, Heart & Sole, Hooch, In Memory of Amy, In Memory of Nadine, Jack’s Cats, Jaros, Jozwiak, Just Donate!!!, Kyle’s Krew, Laura and Neva, Lexy, Liver Lovers, LOVEDUB.ORG/Beta Sigma Kappa Inc., NMP Warriors, Phillip, Remembering Maxwell, Ron, Ryan’s Raiders, Shelly’s Angels, Sinchi, Small Steps, Smith, Stoll Family, Team Bates, Team Collin Adam Enzinna, Team Day, Team Eric Fontaine, Team Kathleen, Team Laura and Neva, Team Louis, Team Necie, Team Paulette, Team Synor, Team Tina, Team Tinna, The Peglegs, The Smith Family, The Thorntons, Uncle Dave Mead, Van Every’s, Vickner, and Yoder.

Walk14-tree families