As families and friends reflect on the many things for which they are thankful this holiday, there is something easily overlooked but that can be the difference between death and life itself.

Since its founding in 1972, Blood Assurance, which has an office in Fort Oglethorpe, has provided safe and adequate supplies of blood for everyone in a 51-county mid-South region of Appalachia.

From humble beginnings, BA has grown to now serve more than 70 health care facilities in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. But even as it has grown and matured over time, its mission of offering whole blood and blood components in a cost-effective manner to every area patient in need has been constant.

Today, Blood Assurance aims to revitalize and expand its base under the leadership of President and CEO J.B. Gaskins, who stresses that basic humanity of non-profit organization.

"People give to people — people give for people," Gaskin said when introduced during a recent Blood Assurance advisory board meeting.

Gaskins, retired after more than 30 years as a U.S. Army Reserve officer and a 37- year involvement with blood banking, said his first experience with a blood bank's contribution to a community — and to those who make up that community — was personal.

The youngest of seven children growing up in central Florida, Gaskins' sister nearly died following a car crash. He attributes her survival to "medical attention, the power of prayer and the fact that 85 people had given blood."

Gaskins began his blood banking career in 1979, as a part-time phlebotomist, while attending college Gainesville, Fla. After several years drawing donor's blood and serving in "every role except as a lab tech," he moved into a blood bank management.

After 15-20 years as a manager in progressively larger systems in Florida, Gaskins came to the Chattanooga-based Blood Assurance that coincides with his Nov. 12 retirement from the military.

Having enlisted in 2007, Gaskins was commissioned in 2009 and retires with the rank of lieutenant colonel. During his military career, Gaskins primarily served in transportation and logistics, spending the last nine years as a training instructor, and was on active duty as an Army engineer in Virginia when the Pentagon was attacked on 9/11.

"A day I'll never forget," he said.

Gaskins said his strength coming to Blood Assurance is his skill in recruitment and collections.

While watching the bottom line is crucial, he said the key to the organization's vitality is restoring relationships in the community. Gaskins said he wants to build a strong foundation based on four pillars: operations, financial responsibility, safety, and quality of its products and people — both donors and staff.

"Nothing happens without donors," he said. "We are the stewards of the blood supply, a resource that is given to save lives."

About Blood Assurance

Blood Assurance currently operates with 16 locations and 13 bloodmobiles to collect life-saving blood products, used by area patients. Blood Assurance is a member of the American Association of Blood Banks, America’s Blood Centers, the Tennessee Association of Blood Banks, the Tennessee Hospital Association, Blood Centers of America, the Georgia Department of Community Health, Tennessee Department of Health, and the Chattanooga Area Hospital Council. Blood Assurance has been a member of the Be The Match Registry® (also known as the National Marrow Donor Program) since 1993. Blood Assurance is licensed by the Tennessee Department of Public Health, the Georgia Department of Human Resources, the Alabama State Board of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Mike O'Neal is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga. He can be reached at the Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at moneal@npco.com.