Personality: Dr. Kimberly Williams Sanford

Spotlight on volunteer board chair of the American Red Cross Capital Chapter

6/11/2020, 6 p.m.
With 2 million positive cases of COVID-19 in the United States and a hurricane season that started on June 1, …

With 2 million positive cases of COVID-19 in the United States and a hurricane season that started on June 1, the American Red Cross, the nation’s premier emergency response organization, likely will have its hands full into 2021.

In the Richmond region, the Red Cross effort is being led by volunteer Dr. Kimberly Williams Sanford, chair of the Capital Chapter’s board of directors.

“Communities across the country count on the American Red Cross for help every day – and supporting those communities is at the heart of what we do,” Dr. Sanford says. “Our work never stops, even during this coronavirus crisis, and we remain focused on delivering our life-saving mission each day.”

The Chesterfield County resident has served as the chair of the volunteer board since her election in 2019.

Dr. Sanford first became involved with the Red Cross when she worked with Virginia region executives to help set up blood drives at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her passion for such projects and the mission were recognized, and she was invited by Reginald Gordon, former chief executive officer of the Red Cross’Virginia region, to join the board.

As board chair, Dr. Sanford is passionate about efforts to increase the base of blood donors and to further diversify the makeup of the volunteer board.

Her volunteer work with the Red Cross meshes with her work at VCU Health, where she serves as medical director of transfusion medicine.

“I recognized that my expertise in transfusion medicine can help us focus on building a larger blood donor base in the Richmond area,” Dr. Sanford says.

In Metro Richmond and across the nation, the Red Cross focuses on four major pillars: supplying blood products for patients in need of transfusions; helping families affected by disaster with safe housing and food; offering a variety of online and in-class health courses, such as first aid and CPR; and supporting military families and veterans with emergency communication messages and online workshops.

In response to the COVID19 pandemic, the Red Cross also is playing a vital role by collecting plasma from those who have fully recovered from the virus to help with treatment in coordination with the Federal Drug Administration. More region-specific initiatives include expanding blood donation hours at Richmond area sites while working to find more donation venues at locations such as school gymnasiums, auditoriums and cafeterias.

The Capital Chapter continues these operations while facing a critical nationwide blood shortage, Dr. Sanford says. Months of stay-at-home orders and social distancing have greatly reduced blood donations, although the need continues with elective surgeries rescheduled in the state.

“Right now, we have less than a two-day supply. We normally have a five-day supply,” she explains.

The shortage is impacting everything from transplant surgeries to sickle cell anemia treatment.

She stresses the need for donors of all blood types – O positive, O negative, A positive, A negative, B positive and B negative.

In early April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would ease some of restrictions on blood donation because of the growing need due to the COVID-19 health emergency. The Red Cross is implementing those changes beginning this week, Dr. Sanford says. People who would have been turned away previously as blood donors, including people with recent tattoos or piercings, may be accepted.

People may contact the Red Cross Donor and Client Support Center at (866) 2363276 for information about donor eligibility, or call (800) RED-CROSS to schedule an appointment.

During the pandemic, the Red Cross is collecting blood only from individuals who are healthy and feeling well, with donors seated 6 feet apart to comply with social distancing guidelines and enhanced disinfecting measures throughout the process. Red Cross staff also will be wearing personal protective equipment.

Lately, with the protests against police violence continuing in the area and across the nation, the Red Cross hasn’t seen a level of major physical trauma that would require their direct involvement. Local injuries are being referred to emergency departments around the Richmond area.

For Dr. Sanford and other Red Cross team members and volunteers gearing up for the hurricane and tropical storm season, that’s proven to be something of a relief.

“We’ve all been worried that we would see a lot of injured people and we have not experienced that,” Dr. Sanford says.

While there’s a lot to handle, Dr. Sanford seems content.

“When you enjoy what you do, it absolutely doesn’t feel like work,” she says. “It’s incredibly gratifying.”

Meet a leader and advocate when it comes to the region’s blood supply and this week’s Personality, Dr. Kimberly Williams Sanford:

Occupation: Medical director of transfusion medicine, Virginia Commonwealth University Health.

What I do: I oversee the operations of transfusion medicine services at VCUH, which allows for safe transfusion of blood components to all of our patients in our institution while maintaining safety and compliance with the FDA.

Date and place of birth: Oct. 27 in Richmond.

Current residence: Chesterfield County.

Education: L.C. Bird High School in Chesterfield County, 1987; medical technology degree from VCU, 1991; after working in the pathology laboratories at VCU, I decided to pursue medicine and graduated with my doctor of medicine degree in 2001. I completed a five-year residency in pathology at VCU and a two-year subspecialty in transfusion medicine at the University of Virginia.

Family: Son, Joey, 19, who currently is working as an electrician apprentice, and my mother and step-father, Cindy and Bobby Hanchey, in Chesterfield County.

No. 1 volunteer position: Board chair of the Capital Chapter of the American Red Cross.

When I was elected: I was elected board chair in 2019.

Why I wanted to serve: After serving for several years as a member of the board, I recognized that my expertise in transfusion medicine can help us focus on building a larger blood donor base in the Richmond area.

American Red Cross’ mission: The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.

No. 1 project now: I have two top priorities for the board. These include building a larger blood donor base for the Virginia Region of the American Red Cross and increasing the diversity of our board membership to reflect our community.

Foremost goals: We have multiple goals that we focus on at our chapter for the American Red Cross based on the four pillars of our organization. Communities across the country count on the American Red Cross for help every day and supporting those communities is at the heart of what we do. Our work never stops, even during this coronavirus crisis, and we remain focused on delivering our life-saving mission each day.

We are supplying blood products for patients in need of transfusions, including those who need surgery, cancer treatments or who are trauma victims.

We are helping families after disasters of all sizes by making sure they have a safe place to stay and food to eat.

We continue to offer resuscitation, CPR and first aid courses — both online and in class where permitted — to support the needs of health care professionals and other essential workers.

We are supporting military families and veterans with emergency communication messages and online workshops.

We are aiding communities worldwide through the Red Cross and Red Crescent network.

When I first became involved with American Red Cross: I was first invited to attend a meeting at VCU with Reginald Gordon, who was the previous chief executive officer of the Virginia Region of the American Red Cross. We worked together to set up on-campus blood drives and he saw what a passion I had for building the blood donor programs to support our city. I was honored that he invited me to become a member of the volunteer board.

How COVID-19 has affected blood donations: During this uncertain time, the Red Cross has an urgent need for blood donations to prevent another blood shortage as hospitals resume surgical procedures and patient treatments that were temporarily paused earlier this spring in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent weeks, hospital demand for blood products has grown by 30 percent after sharply declining in early April amid this rapidly changing and complex public health crisis. At the same time, blood drives continue to be canceled as many businesses and community organizations remain closed. There is no known end date in this fight against the coronavirus, and the Red Cross urgently needs the help of donors and blood drive hosts to ensure blood products are readily available for patients.

How the Red Cross serves communities during COVID19: We are collecting plasma from individuals who are fully recovered from COVID-19 to help with treatment for the most seriously ill patients in coordination with the FDA and industry partners. In addition, we are still providing all of our normal services.

Tips to prepare for hurricane season during COVID-19: There are actions that you can take to prepare while still protecting yourself from COVID19 during a disaster.

Assemble two kits of emergency supplies and a one-month supply of prescription medication. Start with this basic supply list. Customize your kits to meet your needs. Include disinfectant and hygiene items like soap and hand sanitizer to protect against COVID-19. Some supplies may be hard to get and availability will worsen in a disaster, so start gathering supplies now.

Develop a stay-at-home kit with two weeks of emergency supplies. Include everything you need to stay at home for at least two weeks, with items such as food, water, household cleaning and disinfectant supplies, soap, paper products and personal hygiene items.

Build an evacuation kit with three days of supplies in a “go bag.” Your second kit should be a lightweight, smaller version that you can take with you if you must leave your home quickly. Include everything you need to be on your own for three days — food, water, personal hygiene items and cleaning and disinfectant supplies that you can use on the go, including tissues, hand sanitizer with 60 percent alcohol and disinfection wipes. Ensure that you have cloth face coverings, such as masks and scarves, for everyone in your household who can wear one safely. Cloth face coverings are not a substitute for physical distancing. Continue to keep about 6 feet between yourself and others in public. Cloth face coverings should not be placed on young children under age 2, anyone who has trouble breathing or who is unable to remove it without help.

We also encourage everyone to download the free Red Cross Emergency App. The app allows you to monitor conditions in your area or the area of loved ones, prepare your family and your home, check to see if loved ones are safe and let them know you’re safe. It’s a must-have for anyone who lives in areas prone to severe weather or have loved ones who do.

A good leader is: Someone who engages their membership and listens to their ideas to help provide solutions to barriers. How I start the day: By taking a few minutes on my deck and centering myself before diving into my workday.

A perfect day for me is: Setting realistic small goals for the day and accomplishing those goals by the end of the day.

How I unwind: I enjoy sitting outside on the deck when I first return home as a way to decompress from the pressures of my workday and transition to my home life. I also enjoy having dinner with my family and hearing the events of everyone else’s day. It is a way for us to stay connected with each other.

At the top of my “to-do” list: Review my schedule and make certain I have all that I need to be prepared for the tasks and meetings for the day. Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: I enjoy bass fishing. It is a relaxing pastime and a way to get away from the stressors of work.

Best late-night snack: Popcorn.

A quote that I am inspired by: “Make explicit what is implicit” — from VCU’s chief of perisurgical services during an award acceptance speech. It is a simple reminder to communicate with your team members clearly and make sure they clearly understand your expectations.

The best thing my parents ever taught me: My parents stressed to me how important education was at a young age. Neither of my parents graduated from high school and they realized how important receiving an education would be for me. They also taught me to work hard and put my best effort into everything I do.

Person who influenced me the most: Dr. David Wilkinson, former chair of VCU’s Department of Pathology. He wholeheartedly supported my decision to return to medical school while I was working as a medical technologist in the Pathology Department. After completing a residency and working briefly in private practice, I returned to work under his direction in transfusion medicine at VCU.

Book that influenced me the most: “The Glass Castle: A Memoir” by Jeannette Walls. What I’m reading now: “Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.” by Brené Brown.

If I’ve learned one thing in life, it is: Appreciate every blessing we’re given and make the best use of the talents that we possess to improve our lives and those around us.

Next goal: In September, I will become president of the largest pathology organization, American Society for Clinical Pathologists, and my goal is to expand our diversity and inclusion at all levels within our organization.