Joe Szaller was a respected blood mobile medical
team manager at the Red Cross Chesapeake regional blood center
But in late 2000, as CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson
reports, Szaller began seeing disturbing trends that he felt
compromised the safety of the blood he helped collect and
the people who would receive it.
His team, he says, was among the safest, best performing
blood collection team in the region.
However, when asked if it's possible that infected blood
could have slipped through, Szaller replies, "Yes, I
firmly believe that."
How could that happen?
To begin with, handheld computers are supposed to "pre-check"
donors against a database, in case they've been flagged as
unsafe. But Szaller says the "pre-check" computers
were out of commission most days.
"Let's say you do have Hepatitis C, well you can't donate,"
explains Szaller. "Well, your social security number
would be in that pre-system and it would come up and say,
'may not donate.'"
"If I don't have the pre-check system, I don't know
According to Szaller, blood was routinely accepted without
the required pre-check. Adding to the dangers, he also says
Red Cross employees were put on bloodmobiles without the mandatory
safety training and weren't asking donors the right screening
questions, questions to identify if they're at high risk.
Szaller says he complained to his supervisors for months,
but nothing changed.
"I reached the point where I could not sleep at night,"
he says. "I was thankful at this point that my family
lived in West Virginia if they needed a blood transfusion
because I know that the Chesapeake Bay area's … taking
too many shortcuts just to make their goals."
Though much blood stays in the region where it's collected,
it can be sent anywhere it's needed. Finally, in spring of
2001, Szaller called a special Red Cross national hotline
to report the safety violations. After that, things did change,
but not the way he expected.
The day after he called the hotline to report the problems,
Szaller was fired. He believes his call was the reason for
"I knew in my heart all the way down to the bottom of
my feet," he says. "I knew that this was it."
His bosses say they fired Szaller for mismanagement, despite
the stellar job reviews and stacks of commendations and awards
he had received.
What adds to Szaller's credibility is what the Food and Drug
Administration found when it recently inspected the facility
where he worked.