Though he’s quick to stress that “pathology in the community hospital is not “CSI” — “That’s probably the most common misconception about what I do” — Beaufort Memorial Hospital’s Dr. Brad Collins makes this lesser-known practice sound pretty interesting, if not exactly ready for prime time drama.
Collins said he specialized in pathology because “when I got through medical school, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do.” But after “a flexible internship with a half year of medical and a half year of pathology … there was no question for me. Pathology is probably the truest science-based practice in medicine. Tissue is there to be interpreted and read.”
A native Beaufortonian, Collins — the director of laboratories at Beaufort Memorial Hospital and the chairman of the Blood Alliance, a nonprofit community blood bank — followed in the footsteps of his father, Dr. Ernest Collins, an OB-GYN at Beaufort Memorial who came here in 1971. The hospital’s birthing center is named for him. (Collins' mother is an artist who owns Indigo Gallery on Bay Street.)
Brad and his wife, Cindy, married after college. She went to dental school while he was in medical school at the Medical University of South Carolina. She practiced part-time and raised their three daughters and son, then fully retired to be at home for their last two kids.
After medical school, Collins did a five-year internship in pathology at MUSC and joined the Greenville Hospital System in 1988. Working with 10 other pathologists there, he said, was “a great experience for me.” He found one of the job’s most interesting aspects to be a well-run blood center, established in the 1960s, which allowed him to see how such a community-based center could work elsewhere.
Community in need
Greenville’s center planted the seed of an idea, and when Collins moved back to Beaufort with his family in 1996, he recognized that “this community needed to take ownership of supplying the blood that they use.”
The Blood Alliance, started in 1942 in Jacksonville, includes Savannah and, since 2003, Beaufort. Collins said that for this community, “The partnership is an absolute ‘win.’ Along the way, there’s just been great support from everyone.”
Over the years, it has grown, thanks in part to the Blood Alliance advisory board, which has helped to grow the donor base and the idea that “we need to take control of our own destiny,” according to Collins.
While the American Red Cross is a national blood supplier, giving about 50 percent of the blood used in hospitals across the country who contract with them, local blood centers provide the other 50 percent. Collins explained that a local center “looks for your community to donate as much blood as you use. Some months you may have a little less than you want, and sometimes you’re fortunate and it’s a little more. Then, there’s this sharing that goes on inside the community blood center. If we fall short, we get a little help. If we collect more, it goes to help the communities inside the Blood Alliance.”
Sue Fillmore, Collins’ assistant for the past 14 years, stressed that the Blood Alliance “is the sole source of blood products for Beaufort Memorial. When you donate, you are showing support for your local community. … You never know when a friend, family member or co-worker might be the unplanned recipient of the blood that we have collected, and you will want to have an adequate supply to meet their need.”
Collins said that, lately, the Blood Alliance has been collecting 250-300 pints a month.
“It’s taken a long time to get there, and we feel like we’re now accomplishing our mission,” he said. “The best thing that could happen would be that we would have surpluses so we could share with other communities.”
Fillmore called her boss “one of the true gentlemen in a world that does not seem to have very many anymore. He truly cares about the patients he cares for; they are not just a name or specimen.
Only 5 percent of eligible donors actually donate blood. Collins believes that the most common reason for not donating is because potential donors haven’t been directly asked. But “if you ask people in the right way, and you make it easy for them to do it,” donors will step up and give.
Area communities such as Dataw and Sun City “come out in large numbers to help support us, and they do it regularly,” Collins said. “We’re trying to change the mind-set of those folks who don’t donate currently and then get them to come in.”
Fillmore said she has “tried to help all I could along the way to get the Blood Alliance going.” She donates regularly and at her next donation in February will have given a total of five gallons to the Blood Alliance, one pint at a time.
Fillmore began giving blood when a co-worker asked if she would donate. “It was something I had thought about but never done, so I decided that I would try,” she said. “I understand how important it is to have an adequate supply on hand for those in our community who might need it.”
During the Past few years, her daughter and mother have both needed blood. “Now, I just enjoy the donation experience,” she added.
“I really feel like I am doing something to help others. It does not cost me anything except a little bit of time.”
Collins first gave blood in college. “I felt like I didn’t have much to give,” he recalled, “but I could easily give that, and it made me feel good, like I was doing something positive, and it’s really easy.”
He was a regular donor to the Blood Alliance until this past summer, when he and his family did mission work with their church in the Dominican Republic. For a year, none of them will be able to donate blood.
“That’s the nature of the problem,” he explained, with collecting blood. “There are more and more reasons people can’t donate, whether it’s exposure to infection, travel or medications. So the donor base needs to grow all the time.”