News Releases


Teacher's Challenge to 4th Grade Students Inspires Community Service

One student raises over $500 first week to help patients needing bone marrow transplant

What do Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., a team of teachers in Rockford and Cedar Springs Public Schools, and some very ambitious fourth graders have in common? They want to be the change they wish to see in the world,’ as was quoted by Gandhi, the preeminent leader of Indian nationalism in British-ruled India (1869-1948). 

For the past four years, Rockford Public Schools teachers Gail Falcinelli, Tim Woznick and Luanne Helsen have teamed up with Gail’s daughter, Lisa Falcinelli, who teaches 4th graders at Cedar View Elementary in Cedar Springs.  The teachers kick off a project on Martin Luther King Day based on the classic children’s book, Martin’s Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport.  Using quotes from some of his beloved speeches, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., comes to life for the students, inspiring them to step outside themselves and make a difference in someone’s life.  

But this life lesson project goes far beyond Face Time with their book buddies and blogging. To help the students understand how blessed they are, while gently exposing them to how much need there is locally and globally, the teachers give each student $2 and encourage them to use the money to help someone.  Students enthusiastically dive in, opening their eyes to the vast needs in their community. Hunger … illness … homelessness … struggling veterans and isolated older adults … and that’s just for starters.  Next comes the ‘hard’ work … creating cards for hospital patients, visiting senior centers, donating to food banks, and brainstorming on how to “grow” thei rteachers’ cash for greater impact. In the process, the students are taught a third lesson: humility. Each approaches their project in a different way, as they learn their perspective and background guides them on their course of action. 

For Parkside Elementary fourth grader Tyler Vander Laan, he decided he wanted to use his teacher’s $2 investment to help the organization that gave his newborn baby sister life-saving blood hours after her birth. Tyler asked his mother Leda if there was a way to help Michigan Blood. Leda encouraged Tyler to share his story with others and ask them to consider making a donation to Michigan Blood’s Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Program so that patients needing a transplant to fight leukemia, lymphoma and 70 other blood related disorders could hopefully find a match through Michigan Blood’s affiliated Be the Match® Registry. Each year 10,000 people turn the Registry for a potential match; 4 out of 10 find a match, despite 10 million potential donors on the Registry. The way to help more people find a lifesaving bone marrow transplant match is to add more people to the Registry. Tyler’s goal was to raise $500 to help underwrite testing for additional people to join the Registry. (The average cost of testing is $100/Registrant).

Within one day, Tyler surpassed his goal and raised over $600 – then quickly raised his goal to $1000. Tyler created a custom Team Be the Match page and emailed a link to his page out to family members and friends asking them to support his fundraising/life-saving efforts. 

When Tyler visited Michigan Blood’s donor center at 1036 Fuller Avenue in Grand Rapids on January 29, 2013, he went for a tour and learned more about the importance of the program he is supporting. He also brought along his now 8 year old sister Nyla, mom Leda, and the classroom mascot, James the chameleon.  Tyler may have had a bit of trouble wrapping his brain around 10 million people on a registry and still only 40% find a lifesaving match, but he loved sharing how awesome his teachers are and the neat things his classmates are doing.   He also is looking forward to the ‘television news program’ they will shoot the third week of February and share with their book buddies in their partner classroom. This Today Show-like broadcast is a much anticipated celebration of all the students have accomplished. 

Tyler’s goal is to raise $1000 by February 13, 2013. He plans to be at the Rockford Ice Festival on Saturday, February 9th (1-4 pm) at the RE/MAX United booth. RE/MAX United is donating the proceeds from the hot chocolate served. 

For more information about Michigan Blood’s Marrow/Stem Cell Programs and how to join the National Be the Match Registry, contact Kona Dominick at 616.233.8516 or check out  

Michigan Blood will host a Registry Drive on February 25, 2013 from 5-9 pm at The Mitten Brewing Co., (5-9 pm), 527 Leonard NW in Grand Rapids.  The Mitten Brewing Co. has selected Michigan Blood as its charity partner for the month of February. A percentage of food/beverage sales for the entire month will be donated to help offset the cost to join the Registry.


Michigan Blood Selected by The Mitten Brewing Co. as Charity Partner

The Mitten Brewing Co. has selected Michigan Blood and its Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Programs as the charity partner for the month of February 2013.  Patrons are encouraged to eat, drink, and be merry, and save lives all at the same time.  Throughout February, The Mitten Brewing Co. will donate a percentage of food/beverage sales to Michigan Blood’s Be the Match® Registry program.  Michigan Blood is affiliated with the National Marrow Donor Program’s international registry which matches patients needing lifesaving transplants to fight leukemia, lymphoma, and 70 other blood related diseases.  The registry currently contains over 10 million donors, yet only 4 in 10 patients find a perfect match.  The need to add more donors to the registry is critical, yet the average cost to do so is $100 per donor for testing.  Monies donated by The Mitten Brewing Co. from February sales will help offset testin

Lyndsay Israel, General Manager at The Mitten Brewing Co., notes:  “This really is serendipitous.  We were looking to support a local charity for the month of February and one of our patrons asked if we would consider Michigan Blood’s Be the Match® Program.   Their 12 year old daughter who had leukemia is alive and thriving today because a generous, anonymous donor from New Jersey had stepped up and joined the registry during a college drive.   One of our restaurant investors also brought the same idea to the table, having had a personal experience with a bone marrow transplant.  We just had to do it and we’re excited to do so!”

Kona Dominick, Michigan Blood – Stem Cell Programs and Be the Match® Representative, notes:  “Not only will they donate a percentage of sales all month long, The Mitten Brewing Co. will be open on Monday, February 25th for a Be the Match® Program registry event. The drive will be from 5-9 pm and marrow donors, recipients, and staff will be on hand to meet guests and share their stories.  Food service will be available from noon to 9 pm.  The Mitten Brewing Co. is normally closed on Mondays.  The Registry Drive is open to the public and those 18-44 years old are eligible to join the national registry by doing a simple cheek swab test.”

The Mitten Brewing Co. is located at 527 Leonard St NW in Grand Rapids. They are open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to midnight and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. and are closed on Mondays (except Feb. 25, 2013). 

Questions about the National Marrow Donor Program and Be the Match Registry should be directed to Kona Dominick at 616-233-8516.


Randi Pennington – A true "Mission Moment"

Every once in a while a story comes along that reminds us all why we are here at Michigan Blood. Five-year-old Randi Pennington’s story does just that. Inspired by a friend’s scary experience in the hospital, Randi is trying to make a lifesaving difference of her own.
    After watching her friend, Liza Brouwer, and Liza’s older sister Lily fight Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (an illness caused by exposure to E. coli), Randi drew pictures for the girls and asked her mom, Lesley, how they were doing. When both Liza and Lily needed blood transfusions, the Pennington’s realized they could
do something more.
    As a Daisy Scout for Troop 4041 of the Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore, Randi
is selling cookies. Girl Scout cookies. And for the third year in a row, Michigan Blood is the Gift of Caring Organization. That means all cookies sold and marked as “Cookies Boxes Donated” come to Michigan Blood.
    So Randi and her parents decided to promote the little-known fact that people could buy cookies and have them donated. Since adding this to her pitch, Randi’s sales have
exploded. She has sold over 500 boxes of cookies and will continue to sell until the orders are due. She even has a local company, Christian Brothers Automotive, helping her by
accepting orders on her behalf.
    When asked why she is doing this, Randi says “because Michigan Blood helped Lily
and Liza.”  See WZZM13’s coverage of Randi’s story here.


Michigan Blood Saddened by Dr. Mann's Passing

On December 27, 2012 we lost a very important member of our Michigan Blood family.  Dr. Joseph D. Mann was a highly respected pathologist, serving as Director of Laboratories for Butterworth Hospital (now known as Spectrum Health Downtown) for 37 years, and an additional 13 years as a Pathologist.  While with Butterworth, Dr. Mann met with other area hospital pathologists and was instrumental in the decision to close hospitals’ individual blood banks and rely on the expertise of Michigan Community Blood Centers for their hospitals’ blood needs.  Dr. Mann served on the board of directors for Michigan Blood, and he had a lifetime interest in research. He published numerous scientific papers in Hematology, Blood Banking and Genetics.  Nationally, Dr. Mann was known for the discovery of a new red cell antigen.  His impact on blood banking was tremendous and he will be greatly missed.  In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be sent to Michigan Blood, PO Box 1704, Grand Rapids, MI 49501-1704, or please consider donating blood in Dr. Mann’s memory.  Funeral services will be held at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids on Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 2 pm. 

For his full obituary, please see:



Michigan's First Public Cord Blood Bank Ships 25,000th Collection Kit

Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells Offer Life Saving Treatment for Patients
throughout the World Suffering from Certain Cancers and Blood-related Diseases

Grand Rapids, Mich. – In 1999, Michigan Blood, formerly known as Michigan Community Blood Centers, became the state’s first public cord blood bank and one of only 20 such public banks in the country.  Public cord blood banks collect, test, and store the blood stem cell from a newborn’s umbilical cord (not to be confused with embryonic stem cells).  For people with certain life-threatening diseases like leukemia and lymphoma, a transplant of stem cells from cord blood or marrow may represent the best hope for survival.  Cord blood stored at Michigan Blood is listed on the Be the Match® international registry, a global resource for matching cord blood with unrelated patients who need stem cell transplants. 

Donating umbilical cord blood does not interfere with birthing. Collection is quick, simple, anonymous, and free of charge to the patient.  There is no risk or pain for either the mother or baby.  Expectant mothers interested in donating their newborns umbilical cord blood stem cells contact Michigan Blood (1-866-MIBLOOD or 616.233.8604) and request a collection kit be sent to them.  On November 30, 2012, Michigan Blood will ship its 25,000th collection kit to a mother living in Saginaw County.  Michigan Blood confirms each expectant mother’s donation intentions with her physician or midwife, and sends a courier to the hospital after delivery.  The rich blood stem cells are tested, frozen and stored at Michigan Blood until a match is found and they can be used to save a life.

Dionne Wetzel was one of Michigan Blood’s very first cord blood stem cell donors when she delivered her daughter in 1999.  “There is nothing that compares to the birth of your healthy baby, and knowing that my child when just minutes old already had the opportunity to save a life – it leaves me speechless.  We are so blessed to have healthy children, and donating my daughter’s umbilical cord cells so that another family has hope is amazing.  Our daughter’s stem cells were transplanted in February of 2011 to an 11 year old girl fighting leukemia.  I am so grateful 25,000 kits have been shipped from Michigan Blood alone.  The more cord blood that is donated, the more lives saved.”

To date, Michigan Blood has provided 125 cord blood stem cell transplants to patients throughout the world -- as close as Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and as far as New Zeeland, covering five of the world’s 7 continents.    Michigan Blood’s local registry has provided over 600 blood stem cell (marrow) transplants from adults.

Each year, thousands of patients with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, sickle cell and other life-threatening diseases depend on the Be The Match Registry® to find a match to save their life.  Patients needing blood stem cell transplants can only find a suitable match within their family about 30% of the time. The remaining 70% of matches are made between complete strangers via the Be the Match Registry.  Yet, even with more than 10 million potential donors on the Registry, only 4 out of 10 find a match.  Donors with diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds are especially needed.

According to Dr. Lee Ann Weitekamp, Michigan Blood’s Vice President of Quality and Medical Services, “there are three main sources of blood cells for transplant.  Two are from adults, the bone marrow and peripheral blood. The third is from cord blood obtained from the umbilical cord after the birth of a child. Cord blood contains fewer blood stem cells than the adult sources, but the cells present are able to reproduce more efficiently.  The cord cells also are less fussy in terms of tissue type matching, which helps reduce a common problem in transplantation called graft vs. host disease.  It allows more patients to use cord cells because the match doesn't need to be as close.”

WZZM coverage:

Michigan Blood works with the following Michigan hospitals for donations:

  • Borgess Medical Center - Kalamazoo, MI
  • Bronson Methodist Hospital - Kalamazoo, MI
  • Covenant Medical Center Harrison - Saginaw, MI
  • Mercy General Health Partners-Hackley - Muskegon, MI
  • Holland Hospital - Holland, MI
  • Lakeland Hospital St. Joseph - St. Joseph, MI
  • Lakeland Hospital Niles - Niles, MI
  • Metro Health Hospital - Wyoming, MI
  • MidMichigan Medical Center - Midland, MI
  • Munson Medical Center - Traverse City, MI
  • North Ottawa Community Hospital - Grand Haven, MI
  • Saint Mary's Health Care - Grand Rapids, MI
  • Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital - Grand Rapids, MI
  • Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial Hospital - Fremont, MI
  • Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital – Zeeland, MI


About Michigan Blood

Founded in 1955, Michigan Blood is an independent, nonprofit blood bank that provides blood for more than 40 hospitals across Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Serving Michigan hospitals is the top priority for Michigan Blood, which collects more than 115,000 blood donations each year at nine permanent donation sites and more than 3,700 mobile blood drives statewide. Related services available from Michigan Blood include a nationally recognized marrow program, therapeutic apheresis, DNA tissue-typing, transfusion medicine consultations, and Michigan’s first public cord blood bank. Michigan Blood is a member of America’s Blood Centers, a network of community blood banks spanning North America that together provide half the US blood supply.

For more information about the Be the Match® national stem cell registry, check out: