Central California Blood Center
A man with a mission
As the President and CEO of the Central California Blood Center in Fresno for the past six years, Dean Eller has overseen the center's mission for providing an adequate and safe blood supply for his community. But instead of being a career blood banker, Eller came to his position after 29 years as a mortgage banker. His commitment to blood banking was the result of a life-changing experience: the illness of his daughter Jennifer.
At age 18, Jennifer was diagnosed with an aggressive type of leukemia. Because of her treatment, Jennifer received hundreds of units of blood and blood components.
"When you see the color gone from your child, and then you watch the color returning to them as the blood goes in, their lips and cheeks turning rosy, their energy growing as the seconds pass — it's life changing," says Eller.
Eventually, Jennifer developed a rare side effect from chemotherapy that caused her body to stop making its own blood, leaving her totally dependent on blood donations for the rest of her life. The experience made Jenny an outspoken advocate for blood donations.
"Thank you for letting me live because my body does not make blood and every ounce in me belongs to someone else," she would tell audiences. "If you are a donor, your blood may be coursing through my veins right now! Thank you for letting me live."
Jennifer's advocacy sparked Eller's own interest in blood donations. Sadly, Jennifer lost her battle to leukemia. On October 28, 1995, the night that Jenny died, Eller promised that he would carry on her work. "Those were four years we wouldn't have had without people willingly coming in to the Blood Center to give blood." Four years after making his promise, Eller assumed his position at the Central California Blood Center. "Knowing how passionate Jennifer was about volunteering — that motivates me," says Eller.
After seven years on the job, Eller is himself still passionate about his work.
"Sometimes in life, you feel like you are called to something," he says. "I feel called to this."
His dream now is a future where blood shortages are nonexistent in his community so that the Fresno center can supply other communities. Says Eller: "If you have the ability to supply others whenever the need arises, then you've done your job at home and we don't ever have to worry about where the next pint is coming from."
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