Her Dream Job

Blood Bank’s Sanders Ends 22-Year NIH Career

Gladys Sanders

Gladys Sanders retired recently after 22 years in the Clinical Center.

It’s a good bet that the countless number of people who have given blood at the NIH Blood Bank over the last 22 years under the skillful hand of Gladys Sanders had no idea they were making a trip to the dentist.

There are a lot of things about Sanders, who retired on Jan. 3, that donors probably didn’t know. What they did know, however, was more than enough; she exuded a warmth and professional competence, a friendliness and good cheer, that took the sting out of a procedure some folks are still leery about.

“The volunteer blood donor service is our face to the public and we have been fortunate to have had Gladys in that position for 22 years,” said Dr. Harvey Klein, chief of the Clinical Center’s department of transfusion medicine (DTM). “Gladys leaves as a member of our family and we will miss her smile as much as her remarkable work ethic. She deserves all the best in her retirement.”

By the time Sanders reached NIH on Nov. 12, 1996, she had already had a number of careers. A native of the District of Columbia, she had graduated from McKinley Tech High School and gone on to Howard University, where she earned a B.S. in zoology. She then went to 4 years of dental school at Howard, where she got her D.D.S. (technically, she is Dr. Sanders).

“I had passed my boards, and I worked in a friend’s [dental] office for a little while, but I just didn’t like it,” she said.

While in dental school, Sanders worked part-time at the old Woodward & Lothrop department store, known locally as Woodies. When she decided dentistry was not for her, she began a 20-year retail career at Woodies’ flagship site downtown.

When the store went out of business, Sanders decided to go back to school to train as a medical technologist. Tuition came out of a severance package negotiated between Woodies and the District government.

Because Sanders already had both an undergraduate degree in science and a doctorate, she completed what normally is a 4-year program at the University of Maryland in just 2 years. She also began working part-time at NIH under the old stay-in-school program. She worked at DTM while she earned her certification in blood banking and hematology, then was hired full-time as a medical technologist at the Blood Bank.

A few moments in a long and satisfying career stood out for Sanders, who retired as a clinical laboratory scientist. There was the visit by former HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, who gave blood at NIH. “I did the screening on him,” she recalls.

There was the little boy with sickle cell disease whose body rejected every attempt at blood transfusion, except from his brother, who was underage and therefore ineligible to donate. “We needed to get FDA permission, but we saved his life,” Sanders said.

Sanders holds balloons while smiling with Gannon

Long-time donor Rick Gannon wishes Sanders well on her last day at NIH.

There was the “bad bleeder” in the operating room who needed massive amounts of blood. “It was over the holidays,” said Sanders, “when not many people are around. All these people from the Clinical Center donated, even from the OR.”

Then there was former NIH director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, who she says was a regular at the Blood Bank.

“You never know who you’re going to meet,” said Sanders. “I’ve bled people from housekeepers to Dr. Zerhouni. He’s the one who got us badges [temporary NIH ID cards] for the donors. Donors love it!

“NIH was always my dream job,” said Sanders. “It’s nice in life to be able to go where you’ve always wanted to go. I’ve met some of the most wonderful people here.”

In retirement, Sanders plans to travel, pursue some volunteer activities and “work on my house.” She also plans to add 2 more years to the 16 she has already spent working part-time—12 hours every Saturday—at Georgetown University Medical Center, where she works in a lab.

On the day after her Dec. 18 retirement party (“I had a great send-off!”), Sanders posed for a selfie with a long-time donor who had dropped in to say goodbye. Speaking for what must be a large cadre of such donors, another of Sanders’ clients had this to say:

“I have been giving blood to NIH’s hemochromatosis study for over 20 years and Gladys has been a part of my life at NIH for all of those years,” said Rick Gannon, of Chevy Chase. “Every time I showed up to donate blood, she always had a smile on her face, was extremely professional and loved by those around her. Though I will continue giving blood, I will miss seeing her and wish her the best health, joy and happiness as she begins the next chapter in her life.”

Sanders, of course, gets the last word.

“Come and donate blood!” she said, with her trademark smile.