AABB History: The Formation of a New American Association of Blood Banks

February 17, 2022

Blood Bank Institute 

After the end of World War II, the collection of blood for therapeutic use was of interest not only for fighting troops, but also civilians injured at home. Blood banks were established everywhere. Without a national organization or easy means of communication other than long-distance telephone calls, telegrams, and postal delivery, each facility operated independently to meet the needs of the local community. 

Many professionals realized that a mechanism was needed for experts to share best practices, for staff at all levels to receive improved training, and for procedures to be standardized to achieve minimum goals. At the William Buchanan Blood Center of Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, Texas, two of the people talking about the need for better coordination did more than just talk about it.  

Marjorie M. Saunders, LLB, who was the public relations attorney at the blood center and administrative assistant to Joseph M. Hill, MD, DSc, DHC, FASCP, FACP (director of laboratories at both the blood center and the hospital) sent a questionnaire to find out how other blood banks operated. A follow-up formal survey also asked if there was interest in forming a national association; 78% of the respondents said, “Yes.”  

Hill had organized (likely with plenty of Saunders’ help) the 1946 Rh conference in Dallas and Mexico City, so the two began making arrangements for another conference, a Blood Bank Institute, to be held in Dallas in November 1947. Saunders headed the organizational Committee on Arrangements. 

We interrupt this program. . .  

Although the meeting program featured papers and roundtable discussion of clinical, laboratory, and operational/administrative topics, minutes into the welcoming speeches the program halted. Saunders stepped to the microphone and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have just been handed a request signed by 67 of you, dated November 17, 1947, which I would like to read:  

‘The undersigned urgently request that the Blood Bank Institute seriously consider at the earliest possible moment the formation of an American Association of Blood Banks.’ 

Instead of introducing the first presenter of the morning session, Saunders presided over an impromptu executive session during which she appointed a Committee on Organization headed by W. Quinn Jordan, LLB. Other members of the committee included E.E. Muirhead, MD; J. Richard Czajkowski, PhD; G. Albin Matson, MA, PhD; John J. Andujar, MD; John Scudder, MD, FACP; and Osborne A. Brines, MD. Their report back to the assembly was due at the business meeting the next morning. They may have missed many of that day’s presentations, but, oh, what a job they did!  

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming 

In addition to exploring the idea of a national association, a key focus of the Blood Bank Institute was to compare practices and solutions to problems. One of the attendees, and later editor of the monthly newsletter AABB Bulletin, Marion R. Rymer, PhD, director of the Belle Bonfils Memorial Blood Bank in Denver, reflected  on the November 17-19 meeting. 

“As the papers were presented, the picture of blood banks from Seattle to Miami, from New York to Phoenix, [and cities outside U.S. borders] grew before our eyes. We found that many of the same troubles perplexed all of us; that there were sharp differences of opinion among us on the same procedures and practices; and that each experienced the deep satisfactions that come from this service.” 

“Every one of us measured our blood bank against the other blood banks… it was a humbling experience. No blood bank was so good that it could not be made better; none so secure that it did not need the help of others; no system of techniques that could not be perfected; no philosophy that was unassailable.” 

“There was inspiration, too, in meeting leaders in this field, discovering again that truly great people are never too busy or too proud to help the beginner…. For however divergent our views, we are bound together by a community of interests and spirit.”   

Content, Content, Content 

With the crises of World War II and the Texas City explosion still in their minds, many blood bankers discussed cooperative efforts in times of emergency. The very first presentation at the Blood Bank Institute was “The Role Played by Blood Banks in Disasters” by William O. Levin, MD, and L. Jean Stubbins, MT. They analyzed the details of the tragic explosion and evaluated the experiences of the blood bank staff at the John Sealy Hospital in nearby Galveston, where many of the injured were treated. 

Other papers and roundtable discussions included diverse concerns and interests of the time: 

  • Survey of Techniques for Blood Antigen and Antibody Determinations 
  • The Treatment of Hemolytic (Incompatible) Transfusion Reactions 
  • Nomenclature of Blood Antigens, Especially Rh (Hr) Group 
  • Hospital-Blood Bank Relationships 
  • A Plan for Training Blood Bank Personnel 
  • Scientific Problems in Blood Banking 
  • Administrative Problems in Blood Banking 
  • Present and Future Needs for Blood Banks  

The Blood Bank Institute attendees also spent time at the meeting in informal exchanges at social events — what we might recognize as networking today. Receptions, dinners, tours, a medical film, and  exhibits filled out the 3-day program. A banquet on the final evening capped the experience — a fitting celebration of the individual and organizational relationships that had been forged during those crucial days. 

Board members, however, were not content to head home in a hurry. Instead, they convened immediately after the banquet. They made several key decisions on membership and resolved to offer the association’s services to the nation in times of emergency. The meeting did not adjourn until 12:05 am on November 20.  

A few days afterward, Saunders reflected on an old saying that nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished without creating other obstacles to overcome. “I believe this to be the case not only in the formation of this Association, but also in its future…. In the American Association of Blood Banks, we have created something  that will live and grow and benefit mankind…. Let us not fail!”