By Kathy Day
Keep your eyes on the San Diego Blood Bank as the 64-year-old organization adds some divergent paths to its course under its new CEO, Carmel Valley resident David Wellis, and recently installed board president, Del Mar resident Holly Heaton.
With strong ties to the biotech and medical communities, the two share a desire to have a personal impact on their community as well as a passion for taking the Blood Bank beyond its core mission of supplying blood – more than 10,000 units per month — and blood products to its hospital partners in San Diego, Imperial and Orange Counties.
“We want to expand that footprint,” said Wellis, who was named to the top post in July.
Heaton, who worked as an ICU nurse in Denver — and earned a law degree at the same time — was elected board president in January. She’s been on the board since 2011 and headed the search committee that picked Wellis. Prior to retiring in 2010, she spent 18 years at Sharp Hospital where she was vice president and senior legal counsel. She’s taught at UCSD and SDSU and worked in the medical malpractice group at Higgs Fletcher and Mack.
She said she’s excited to see where Wellis takes the Blood Bank.
“He’s thinking outside the box,” she said. “Instead of being the typical blood bank, he’s got us looking to the future.”
With his education as a cell biologist, including a Ph.D., postdoctoral work at UC Berkeley and Tufts University, and more than 15 years on the business side of the biotech industry, Wellis brings connections and an understanding of science to the role. When he interviewed for the job he was a bit reluctant because of the seemingly conservative nature of the nonprofit. However, when he understood what the board wanted to do and “a light went off that I’ll be the boss,” he said he realized it was an “incredible opportunity to have an impact today.”
Once Wellis made the move from BioAtla, a protein company using its proprietary technology to develop an anticancer drug, he put his head down for 60 days and developed a three-year strategic plan that he believes will “leverage the infrastructure we’ve built.”
It defines what he’s dubbed “San Diego Blood Bank 2.0.”
The local organization is now part of a national collaborative of six regional blood centers that is reviewing best practices and addressing larger system opportunities that he says are needed as hospital systems consolidate.
As he walked around the donor center on Gateway Center Avenue in Southeastern San Diego, Wellis said he recognized that it looks a lot like a hospital with its beds and nursing station. He said he started thinking about how people are taking greater ownership of their own healthcare and how businesses like CVS are putting clinics in their stores, and wondered “Why aren’t we doing more in the donor centers?”
With the headquarters center, the mobile blood banks that visit companies and public places such as schools and churches, and the new Carmel Valley Donor Center, the Blood Bank is considering conducting corporate wellness screenings so instead of just taking blood donations, “we could get two birds with one stone,” Wellis said.
One of big issues is how to pay for such work, he noted. “There’s not a lot of income in our core businesses, even with grants”
Ramping up activities of the Blood Bank Foundation, and changing how it raises money, is on Wellis’ goal list as is engaging with the local scientific community and the region’s research institutions. He sees potential in such opportunities as creating platforms to build diagnostic tests and taking advantage of the supplies or cord blood the center collects that could aid stem cell research.
With Wellis at the forefront, Heaton said she is excited that the organization is connecting with UC San Diego for the first time via the new Clinical and Translational Research Institute. Now under construction, it will enable researchers and physicians a way to work more closely together in finding ways to treat disease.
Already a program partner in the National Marrow Donor Program, the Blood Bank has a track record of making lots of matches through its cord blood bank because of the community’s diversity, Wellis explained, “Think about stem cells – what’s in cord blood is stem cells.”
The blood has a very short shelf life for infusion after the donation, but offers great potential for research.
“There can be an interesting blend of nonprofits and for-profit business,” Wellis said, citing a San Diego Zoo board member who said that “our tax status is not a business strategy.”
Asked what they find most inspiring in their lives, both Wellis and Heaton said “having an impact.”
Since retiring, Heaton’s been active on the board of ARCS (Achievement Recognition for Collegiate Scientists) San Diego, which provides financial assistance to collegiate scholars in science and technology, and volunteered at San Diego Hospice before it became part of Scripps Health. She also volunteers weekly in the thrift shop at St. James Parish in Solana Beach.
Her idea of impact is to “make this wonderful local resource a less well kept secret,” she said. She would also like to have more of San Diego’s high-profile philanthropists get involved in supporting what the Blood Bank does.
A native Midwesterner, Heaton added that she would love for “others to look up to us as cutting edge.”
Wellis also likes the idea of being a model for other blood banks, noting that “if others copy us, that’s good for me.”
For more information, visit www.sandiegobloodbank.org.
Carmel Valley Donor Center:
Piazza Carmel Shopping Center: 3880 Valley Centre Drive, Suite 209 & 210, San Diego, CA 92130; www.sandiegobloodbank.org/donor-centers; (800) 469-7322; Friday - Monday 8 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Tuesday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Closed Wednesday – Thursday.
(Walk past the large sculpture in the middle of the shopping center, through the food court and toward the back of the shopping center. The donor center will be on the left. There is also parking next to the donor center in the back parking lot.)
David P. Wellis
CEO, San Diego Blood Bank
Wife Vinit is a pediatric anesthesiologist; son Kevin is an senior at Francis Parker School; daughter Lara is an eighth-grader at Francis Parker.
BS in biological sciences UC Irvine; MS and Ph.D. in anatomy and cell biology, Emory University; postdoctoral research associate, Tufts-New England Medical Center; postdoctoral fellow, UC Berkeley.
Previous professional experience:
President and senior VP, Business Development, BioAtla; Senior Director of Product Marketing, Illumina Inc.; various positions including CEO, member of scientific advisory board, GenVault Corp.; various positions including VP-functional genomics, Axon Instruments Inc.
Young Presidents Organization, ISBER; parent volunteer at Francis Parker.
Thirteen scientific research papers published; six local and national research awards; referee for nine scientific journals and granting agencies; author of four chapters in business books.
Holly L. Heaton
Board President, San Diego Blood Bank
Husband Robert Heaton, Ph.D., is a distinguished professor of psychiatry at UCSD School of Medicine; twin daughters: Annie, who is applying and interviewing for veterinarian school. She is neuroscience major who played soccer (goalie) at University of San Diego; Emily attended University of Chicago and is a financial analyst at JP Morgan in New York. She was also a soccer player.
Previous professional experience:
Vice president/senior legal counsel, clinical operations, Sharp Hospital; attorney, Higgs, Fletcher & Mack; attorney, Pryor, Carney & Johnson; cardiovascular, ICU and staff/head nurse at various Denver hospitals.
SDSU College of Nursing, adjunct professor; UCSD Extension, guest lecturer; California Society of Healthcare Attorneys; California, San Diego County and Joint Medical Legal County bar associations; Sigma Theta Tau (honorary nursing society).
Frequent speaker at SDSU and UC San Diego nursing and healthcare programs. Women’s soccer coordinator at Torrey Pines High School for three years.