AABB News: What a Difference a Decade Makes. Or not.

April 14, 2022

As AABB president E. Eric Muirhead, MD, declared in his 1957 year-end report, “We can consider the main formative years as over, and major productive years ahead.” Indeed, AABB continued to evolve — growing and strengthening as a major factor in the health-care arena.

For the Times, They Are a-Changin’

Historically, the 1960s stand in stark contrast to the preceding decade. Instead of conservatism, standardization and conformity, the years were marked by informality, change and broadened horizons. The cultural scene exploded with new concepts in music, clothing, civil rights, drug  use, military service, sexuality and schooling, among other aspects. Geopolitically, the United  States and the Soviet Union emerged as confrontational superpowers, with struggles expanding  to all areas of the globe. At home, protests sometimes erupted into violence. Headlines included  reports about casualties in Vietnam and assassinations. Yet the decade ended on a high note, with  a moon landing and a view from space of the earth as one “blue marble.”

Medicine and health care made great advances in the 1960s — vaccines, soft contact lenses,  home kidney dialysis equipment, breast implants, oral contraceptives, cryosurgery, increased  organ transplants and limb reattachments, to name just a few. Many “wonder drugs” were developed that alleviated or cured various ailments; however, other drugs were revealed to have side effects that caused cancer, birth defects, anemia and blindness. Awareness was growing that tobacco use and industrial pollutants were serious health hazards.

Increasing Strength and Stature

Instead of the upheaval that marked much of the 1960s, AABB continued steadily building on its earlier progress and making great strides. Combined individual and institutional membership  grew from 2,800 in 1960 to 4,475 by 1968. This growth enabled not only an increase in strength  and stature for the organization, but also the opportunity to further develop programs and  benefits for the blood transfusion community.

For example, the expansion and restructuring of the AABB Clearinghouse program (now,  National Blood Exchange) under AABB ownership made possible uniform policies and fees, elimination of conflicting purposes and more efficient operations than had been available.

Educational efforts also strengthened — including enhancements to the Annual Meeting, refinements to the criteria for certification of blood bank technologists and implementation of  popular regional workshops on blood component therapy. Education of assessors developed in  tandem with the increasingly robust accreditation program.

Then and Now

Although initially a U.S.-centric organization, it was not long before the AABB community  included blood bankers from other nations. Eager to learn, international attendees came to the  AABB Annual Meetings, as they do today. One participant, Professor Jean Dausset, Centre  National de Transfusion Sanguine (Paris), wrote to AABB in 1960 that he found:

  • Extremely valuable presentations.
  • High level of training evidenced by technologists.
  • Very useful exhibits.
  • Stimulating conversations with other professionals who shared his interests.
  • All around, AABB was the most interesting meeting he’d attended.

Interest in education was reciprocal. For example, immediately following the 1960 Annual  Meeting in San Francisco, 57 participants hopped on a plane for the Eighth Congress of the  International Society of Blood Transfusion, held in Tokyo.

Another similarity between then and now is the concern about infectious diseases. Of course,  today’s worries are not limited to malaria and hepatitis, which dominated in the 1960s. Important  advances were already being made in those earlier times, most recently acknowledged by the  Nobel Prize awarded for early work on hepatitis. In contrast, the pace of research, discovery and  treatment has increased along with the discovery of new AND relevant infectious pathogens.

Publishing has also remained a focus of the association. As AABB president E.R. Jennings, MD, noted in his 1960 year-end report, “. . .we are in the publications business in a big way.” He  identified three significant events: transition of the monthly member communiqué from one  managed by a single dedicated volunteer at the helm to one with increasing staff responsibilities,  updating of the popular Technical Methods and Procedures of the AABB and the Standards for a  Blood Transfusion Service, and the debut of TRANSFUSION, the AABB journal, in 1961.

Today, AABB resources include 69 print publications and over 100 digital publications. The program has evolved to include works developed by individuals, in addition to standing  committees. Many titles have continued from earlier times with editions periodically updated.  Still others are created quickly to address a pressing, but transient, need for information. Through  the decades, AABB resources have become “ambassadors” to a growing readership. No doubt  there is at least one on your bookshelf now!

The Sixties at a Glance

It was a different time and yet… in some ways it wasn’t. Readers can decide for themselves what  still resonates today.

  • 1960: A contest sponsored by Fenwal asked for technologists to relate the most important moment in their careers (prize = all-expense-paid trip to Annual Meeting in San Francisco). The winner, Sister Moira from Bismarck, ND, told of calling the garage where she knew a rare blood donor worked as a mechanic, because a patient needed urgent transfusion. When she asked for the mechanic, she was told he was missing. Minutes later he was found under a vehicle, unconscious from inhaling carbon monoxide fumes. Coworkers revived the mechanic in time and he recovered.
  • 1960: controversy over glass bottles versus plastic bags for blood storage continued to play out in JAMA articles reprinted in the AABB Bulletin.
  • 1960: AABB Bulletin published the proceedings of the Annual Meeting panel session on “Adequate Blood Coverage for the Nation,” with perspectives from the U.S. Public Health Service, Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense Mobilization, AABB, American Red Cross and the Joint Blood Council.
  • 1961: TRANSFUSION began publication, with Tibor Greenwalt, MD, as founding editor.
  • 1962: At least one high-profile member, Eloise Giblett, and her facility (Puget Sound Blood Center) terminated membership because of racial discrimination by the hotel in Memphis that hosted the Annual Meeting.
  • 1966: Publication of AABB News Briefs began.
  • 1966: AABB Clearinghouse (now, National Blood Exchange) expanded and a new system for rare donor files was implemented.
  • 1967: International news included: Cadaver blood facility in India, first blood bank opened in Thailand and a wrong-blood-in-tube death in South Africa.
  • 1968: One annual meeting session demonstrated that an average adult could lose a unit of blood (which appears to be a lot on a sheet) without endangering life and without an emergency call to the blood bank.
  • 1968: AABB News Briefs included a cautionary tale of two patients named Ruth Rogers who arrived at the same hospital at the same time. They were put in the same room. Both had hip fractures on the same side. Both had the same physician. Both were born in the same month of the same year. However, one patient was group A Rh negative and the other was group A Rh positive.
  • 1969: International news included a report of an Australian blood bank that used scenic America posters (from the U.S. Travel Service) on the donor room ceiling for enjoyment and relaxation during donation.