By Barrett Baker
LifeNet Health was founded by Bill Anderson in 1982. The company was originally started as the Eastern Virginia Tissue Bank to meet the basic needs surgeons had for high-quality tissues to use in all different types of surgical procedures. The company became LifeNet in 1989, then they merged with the Organ Procurement Organization for Virginia in 2000 to become the organization they are today but did not change the name to LifeNet Health until 2007.
“We’re a little bit of a horse of a different color in our industry because we are both an organ procurement organization and a tissue bank,” says Dan Shuman, senior manager of marketing communications for LifeNet Health. “Frankly, we’re becoming more than that as we move into the level of regenerative medicine and cellular therapies. We have an Institute of Regenerative Medicine that we officially established in 2009. It got its own building in 2012, and it’s really focused on finding new ways to either recover or preserve tissue so that we are able to get the highest and best use of each gift donated or to find new applications for the gifts that we recover, such as isolated cell types that researchers can use to improve drug discovery and clinical diagnostics.”
On one side of the business, they facilitate the act of organ donation by their status as an organ procurement organization (OPO). OPOs are federally designated in each state/territory in the U.S. So, they are involved in both recovering organs from those who can donate and facilitating the act of transplantation for those awaiting a life-saving organ.
On the other side, facilitating tissue donations is somewhat similar but a little different in terms of a clinic’s or hospital’s needs. “Someone who needs a heart transplant is very different from someone who needs a tendon repair,” says Shuman. “In terms of scale, I think we’ve done about 500 organ transplants whereas we distributed close to 600,000 tissue grafts in 2016. So, it is essentially facilitating life-saving or life-improving gifts from one person to another.”
Although they are a nonprofit company, their contribution to the economic impact on Virginia Beach is evident through their expansion of jobs and a growing workforce. In 2010, they had approximately 480 employees. Right now, they have around 1,000 employees, and they are still growing. Their hiring has been driven by the increased use of allografts (tissue grafts from a donor of the same species as the recipient but not genetically identical) by surgeons performing a variety of procedures—from post-mastectomy reconstruction to joint repair.
“We are growing quickly because we’re increasingly seeing a demand for the types of grafts we distribute as we see certain trends in the healthcare landscape,” says Shuman. “Diabetes is one good example. One of the complications of diabetes is foot ulcers and circulatory problems, and some of the grafts we offer help treat those types of complications. Our growth trajectory is very much tied to needs in the healthcare landscape in trends in our society.”
Although they have another facility in the Pacific Northwest outside of Seattle, a small facility in the Triangle Research Park in North Carolina, as well as an office in Florida and a recently opened office in Vienna, Austria, most of their employees are based in Virginia Beach. “We have reached into other areas when it made sense, when we saw there was an opportunity to make a difference in helping to improve lives,” says Shuman, “but Virginia Beach is where Bill Anderson started the company, and this has always been home to us.”
Learn more at LifeNetHealth.org.