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How CPR Saved My Life

Mon, 11/04/2019 - 11:53
Christine with Frank (left) and Mark (middle) who both performed CPR to help save her life.

On Saturday, April 7, 2018, I went to White Plains beach to meet my friends as I usually do every weekend. We surf or fish in the morning and then BBQ and hang out for the rest of the day. The day started out as it usually does, with the only remarkable event being that I did not eat breakfast and was hungry that morning. My friends Mark and Dann and I decided to fish because there wasn’t much surf that day. The three of us walked down the beach and fished for about an hour and then returned to the parking lot where all of our other friends had congregated. For the next hour or so, we hung out with our friends as a small group of us decided where to go eat since we still hadn’t eaten breakfast. Finally, a restaurant was chosen and my friends and I started to say goodbye to our friends. This is the last part of the story I remember. The remainder of the story was recounted to me by my friends.

My Accident

The last friend I said goodbye to was Jill. Jill was standing by my car, so after I said my goodbyes, I would have gotten in my car and headed to the restaurant. Instead, I hugged Jill and then blacked out. When I blacked out, I fell over and the first part of my body to strike the ground was the right side of my head, just above my ear. The impact with the ground was hard enough to interrupt the body signals that regulate my heartbeat. In essence, the impact was hard enough to stop my heart.

Two of my friends rushed to my aid. Mark Kam, a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines, and Bob Heffelfinger, a civilian government employee, began performing CPR. Bob then realized he wasn’t comfortable performing it, so he stood up and yelled “Somebody Help!”

While at his car putting away his surfboard and fishing equipment, Frank Asuncion, a retired welder from the shipyard at Pearl Harbor, heard Bob’s call and rushed to my aid. Together, Mark and Frank performed CPR, and at this point, I was told I was blue and hadn’t been breathing for approximately three minutes. At some point, I began to breathe again but was told I kept going in and out of consciousness. I remember waking up and seeing paramedics and firefighters hovering over me. One of them asked if I knew where I was and I replied, “I’m at White Plains Beach. Why am I on the ground?” After I answered, I blacked out again.

A Perfect Storm

The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital when they allowed Mark in to see me. At this point, about four hours had passed since my fall in the parking lot. The hospital performed many tests including a CT scan and an MRI. I also received three staples above my right ear for the crack in my skull and was diagnosed with a concussion. The hospital physicians didn’t know the cause of my accident and released me, instructing me to follow up with my primary care doctor. Mark took sick leave from work to help me during my recovery, and I stayed at his house since all of my family members live on the mainland in Pennsylvania. On Monday, Mark took me to my primary care doctor who then referred me to a neurologist and cardiologist. All tests from the neurologist and cardiologist found there was no evidence of heart or brain trouble. So my primary care doctor, using the results from all my tests and procedures, concluded that low blood sugar from not eating breakfast and dehydration caused me to black out, fall, and strike my head on the ground, which affected my heartbeat. In essence, it was a perfect storm of things that combined to cause a potentially deadly situation. But the right people were in the right place that morning and I am still here to share my story.

Bonded for Life

I did have an opportunity to really get to know the men who saved my life. Mark Kam and I had been friends for about two years prior to my accident. We are even closer friends now. He saved my life and he is my best friend. I had not met Frank prior to my accident, but a few days later, I went back to the beach where the accident occurred and spoke to the lifeguards who also assisted during my accident. I asked if they knew who the “other guy” was who helped me. At this point, I only knew his name was ‘Frank’ because it was written on the lifeguard’s report. I asked the head lifeguard, Marvin, if he could give my name and phone number to Frank and ask him to contact me if he was comfortable meeting.

 

Later that day, Frank called me, and we spoke for the first time. We scheduled a time to meet at the beach later that week. It was an emotional reunion, and we were both in tears when we saw each other. During our reunion, we found out that we share a common interest: fishing! So, Frank and I have fished together a few times since my accident, and we continue to keep in touch via texts and phone calls. Frank texts me on the seventh day of each month to recognize another month of my new life.

Learn Lifesaving Skills

Register for a Red Cross CPR course today at https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/cpr to learn lifesaving skills. You never know when you’ll need them.

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Disability Employment Awareness Month: Meet Michael Wojcik

Wed, 10/30/2019 - 06:45

Michael Wojcik is Chief Development Officer for the American Red Cross of Massachusetts. He is a 16-year veteran of the organization. Michael is also legally blind. During Disability Employment Awareness Month, we sat down with Michael to talk about the importance of having honest conversations with colleagues, the meaning of an inclusive workplace, and the valuable insight people with disabilities bring to the Red Cross mission.

When did you join the Red Cross and what is your role?

I joined the Red Cross in September 2003 in my hometown of Chicago. Back then I never thought that I would have the many opportunities for professional growth that I have had at the Red Cross, let alone to serve as Chief Development Officer for the Massachusetts region. I am so proud of what we do here. I get to lead a team of 15 talented Red Crossers (fundraisers) who link compassionate individuals, brand aware companies and impact driven foundations with our lifesaving mission. It is an honor to advocate for a set of values and services that I truly believe in.

How has working at the Red Cross impacted your life or career?

Serving the Red Cross mission is incredibly rewarding. I am reminded daily of how truly fragile life is. We are all one step away from something unexpected disrupting our lives, sometimes forever. At the same time, we also see the humanity and hope in those we serve and our volunteers who reach out their hand to help. At the end of the day, there is hope in the world and it is the Red Cross. Beyond that, the life and career lessons that I have gained from colleagues past and present are too numerous to mention, but they shape who I am and they remind me of why we serve this cause.

What do you love most about your job?

I enjoy supporting our leadership volunteers. I love learning why they choose to champion our cause and strategizing with them to bring the needs of clients to their networks. Supporting their advocacy and helping my team build strategic partnerships to grow our organizational capacity is meaningful to me. Honestly, you would not have heard me say that 16 years ago. Like many, I began my nonprofit career because I learned firsthand that the world is fair to all. While I still know that to be true, what motivates me now is executing our goals. If X is our desired outcome, what will it take to get that done and who must be involved, where, when and how? This may not sound inspiring to some but affecting the desired outcome is cool stuff.

How has/does the Red Cross support you and other individuals with disabilities?

It took me years to grow comfortable talking to my managers about my vision impairment and acknowledging that I may need certain accommodations. For the better part of my life I tried to deny my impairment so that I could “fit in” with everyone else. In the workplace it’s not easy or comfortable to divulge a need. And frankly it took some of my managers time to feel comfortable talking with me about what I may need in terms of support. Ultimately, through courage and conversation, both sides took minor leaps of faith and for years now I’ve maintained a solution-oriented dialogue with my various bosses. For those who may perceive disclosing a disability as professional vulnerability, I say forget that. Just be you. Say what you need. Ultimately, we are our own advocates. No one else but you really knows what you need, so speak up. Believe in yourself and the value you add to this organization and our clients. Remember, our clients see us just as much as our peers do and our advocacy sends a message to them too.

What disabled Red Crossers find is an organization that has fairly well established support systems for folks with a variety of accommodations needs.  For me, it’s ensuring that when I’m at a divisional/national meeting that I have printed copies of all PowerPoint presentations. Similarly, I work in an open office environment. When reporting out on our fundraising metrics, I need to be in front of my computer looking at a large screen while everyone else on my team is gathered in the conference room looking at the TV monitor on the wall. I also have help navigating some online systems.

Ultimately, the Red Cross is a collection of people, just like you and me, who live in and believe in community and who by our very nature believe in the concept of helping others. None of us would be working as hard as we do if we felt otherwise. So, if there is a volunteer or employee who either through fear of stigma, self-doubt or personal pride is unsure about sharing their needs; I am confident that you will find a willing listener and plenty of solutions-oriented people who will help.

What would you say to an individual with a disability looking for a job who might be considering the Red Cross?

The Red Cross is a great organization to serve. Volunteers or employees with a disability are instant rock stars. We play a key role in serving our community because we represent our community. By showing up and offering help, we uphold not only the mission but the values of this organization; in part because we look like those we serve and we experience life like those we serve. That street credibility is priceless. As a disabled Red Crosser, we have more than just our talent to offer; we have a perspective on life that shapes who we are and how we think about ourselves and those we serve. These are coveted assets to a humanitarian organization like ours and they are valued. Embrace it.

What, if anything, surprised you about working at the Red Cross?

I am surprised every day, even 16 years in, by the depth of compassion and sheer determination of Red Cross volunteers and employees. We bring so much of the communities that we serve to the workplace. This makes us a stronger organization every single day.

I have also seen a more inclusive workplace emerge. A few years ago, I was proud to help form our Ability Network. This is a resource group for Red Cross volunteers and staff with disabilities, function and access needs. Ability Network members bring to Gail’s leadership table the challenge, obstacles, perspectives and opportunities that we encounter every day across the organization. In addition to being a forum to drive organizational enhancements, the Ability Network has exposed me to so many Red Crossers who I quite frankly would have never met. Our group affirms that the Red Cross is vast and wide, and has volunteers and staff who represent every aspect of life, our lines of service and ways of working. It’s cool stuff.

What else would you like to share?

Accepting and embracing “the other,” is a continuous journey and requires intention, whether the other is a person who does not look like, talk like or function like us. Take the initiative to ask them who they are, what they value, how they like to be addressed and what we can expect from them. Don’t assume that because someone is different that they can’t. Assume they can and then hold them accountable to deliver on what they promise. It pains me when so called able-bodied folks give those of us with a disability a pass. I’m here to deliver just as much as anyone else and I expect to be held accountable, and believe me, I have been (lol). Everyone values being trusted, respected and expected to deliver for others. Those with disabilities are no different. Every Red Crosser adds value.

Join Us

To find a career where you can make a difference at the Red Cross, visit redcross.org/careers.

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Helping the Red Cross is in Kendra Young’s Blood

Mon, 10/28/2019 - 12:51

Supporting American Red Cross blood donation services is in Kendra Young’s blood.

The Issaquah High School student recently organized a blood drive at her school. Twenty-three pints of blood were collected.

More than 70 years earlier, her grandfather Raymond Henry Salyer helped set up a Red Cross blood bank in Omaha, Nebraska.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t ever really get the chance to know him,” Kendra said about her grandfather. But he was still an inspiration.

“I was definitely more eager to get involved because of that family history,” she said.

It was Kendra’s mother who gave her the idea to host the blood drive. Kendra liked it because she enjoys planning events and volunteering. Over the years, she’s participated in various charity events through her church including food, clothing and school supply drives and handing out Thanksgiving meals for families and individuals in need.

Planning the blood drive was fun, Kendra said. When the day came, she volunteered to check people in. Many of the donors were people she had invited from school, church and work. Some were strangers who saw the flyers she had posted in the area. The payoff was seeing how great people felt after donating.

In thanks for her effort, the Red Cross gave Kendra and her friends a special role at a Reign FC game. The women’s soccer team recently announced their commitment to collecting blood, through a partnership with the Red Cross Missing Types Campaign.

Kendra and her peers were escorted onto the field at halftime and invited to test their luck by attempting to kick a goal (they call it a chip-shot) from the midline.

“We were kicking in the right direction, but we could not kick that far,” said Kendra, who competes on her school’s swim team.

Host a Blood Drive

By hosting a blood drive, students can become eligible for a Red Cross scholarship. Kendra will be a senior this fall and said she might organize another blood drive toward the end of the school year.

“Kendra’s passion and commitment to help others is an inspiration. The Red Cross future is very bright because of young people like Kendra,” said Red Cross Regional Philanthropy Officer, Ken Mundt.

Donate Blood to Help Save Lives

Schedule an appointment to donate today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the blood donor skill on any Alexa Echo device by saying, “Alexa, find a blood drive.” To speed up the donation process, you can also complete a RapidPass® online health history questionnaire at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass on mobile devices.

As a thank you for coming to give this October, you’ll automatically be entered for a chance to win one of five $500 gift cards redeemable at hundreds of merchants, courtesy of Tango Card. Terms apply, see: rcblood.org/game.

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Youth Action Campaign: Making a Global Impact in High School

Wed, 10/23/2019 - 06:25

Evan Edler is a 16-year-old Red Cross volunteer from Massachusetts, who spent this past year participating in his school’s International Humanitarian Law (IHL) Youth Action Campaign. IHL is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. These rules attempt to reconcile the reality of armed conflicts with the protection of lives and preservation of human dignity. The Red Cross’s Youth Action Campaign gives students the opportunity to learn more about this important body of law. We asked Evan a few questions about what he learned from the campaign and why he thinks others should get involved.

What is the Youth Action Campaign?

The IHL Youth Action Campaign is a way for youth volunteers and activists to educate their communities about international humanitarian law, and how it affects people around the world.

How long have you been involved with the Youth Action Campaign?

Last year was my first (and my school’s first) year participating in the Youth Action Campaign.

Why is it important for people to know about international humanitarian law?

Though some people are far removed from warfare or military involvement, to many, IHL is a life-or-death matter. For people living in active war zones or with family members in danger, IHL can be an extremely important protection – which is why the rest of the world should be aware when such essential rules are violated.

What do you do as a member of the Youth Action Campaign?

As a member of the Youth Action Campaign, I work to teach my peers about IHL and its importance. I plan creative events, advertise throughout the school and encourage other students and my community to get involved with the Red Cross. I generally promote excitement about IHL to increase awareness in fun and different ways.

What’s the most surprising thing you learned about international humanitarian law?

The most surprising thing I learned was that people violate IHL so frequently. It was shocking to hear stories and see examples of combatants in war targeting medical facilities, considering the neutrality protections that the symbol of the Red Cross should grant in such places.

Why do you think others should get involved with the campaign?

The campaign is not only a good way to learn more about international humanitarian law, but it also spreads awareness around the work of the Red Cross and humanitarianism in general. The Youth Action Campaign is a doorway into the Red Cross as an international effort and it provides a valuable perspective on both history and modern-day events. And most importantly, the campaign allows you to connect to your peers in new ways over very important issues.

What do you like most about being involved with the campaign?

I loved the idea that so many other people were running the same campaign. The fact that youth across the country and beyond were participating together to achieve the same goal was especially powerful, and it made the campaign much more interesting than an average school event. In addition, it got me more involved with the Red Cross as a whole. Thanks to the campaign, I had the invaluable opportunity to come all the way for a visit to the Red Cross national headquarters in D.C.

Learn More

To learn more about the International Humanitarian Law Youth Action campaign, visit redcross.org.

 

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Five Things You Should Know on World Mental Health Day

Thu, 10/10/2019 - 06:21

Karen Koski-Miller is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the Disaster Mental Health Senior Associate for the American Red Cross. In her role, she manages the Disaster Mental Health program for the organization.

During the last 18 years of my career in the social work field, I’ve witnessed a clear shift in attitudes toward mental health. Although we have made progress in this area, there is still a stigma surrounding mental health issues in the U.S. and in different cultures across the world. This World Mental Health Day, I want to share five things that will help you become more mindful in your relationships with others and with yourself.

Know that Having a Mental Illness Does Not Define a Person

One in five individuals in the U.S. has or will be diagnosed with a mental illness. With that in mind it’s important to remember that although a person may have a mental illness, their illness does not define who they are as a person, which leads me to my next point.

We Can All Reframe How We Speak About Mental Illness

When speaking about mental illnesses, it’s helpful to think of them kind of like physical illnesses. So instead of saying someone is bipolar, you could say that someone has bipolar disorder, similar to how you would say that someone has chronic migraines. You wouldn’t say that a person is chronic migraines. Reframing how we speak about mental illness and the people who have them could help decrease the stigma around mental health issues across the board.

Really Listen to Your Friends and Family

Sadly, approximately every 40 seconds, someone loses their life to suicide. If you come across a loved one you think may be suicidal and want to help, it’s important for you to show compassion. Let them know that they are not alone and that there are people who care about them. If you learn that they have a plan or the means to commit suicide, call 9-1-1 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) as soon as possible.

Focus on Strengths

People who have mental health issues need to be reminded of their strengths. I know this is a point that we all can relate to. Always encourage people to recognize what they’ve accomplished instead of focusing on what they’re lacking. The fact that a person can reach out to someone, whether that be a friend, family member or a mental health professional, to talk about how they’re feeling or what they’re experiencing is a big step in the right direction.

Help is Available

If you’re having difficulty with mental health issues, always remember that help is available. There are a variety of organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that can help. If you’ve recently been impacted by a disaster, Red Cross mental health volunteers out in the community and at Red Cross shelters can help provide residents with emotional support and connect them to much needed resources. And here are Red Cross tips that can help and your loved ones emotionally recover.

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“If it wasn’t for the smoke alarms, my son would’ve never got out.”

Wed, 10/09/2019 - 05:00

Originally published on the Red Cross Western and Central New York blog

“The fire was very devastating. We lost pretty much everything,” Margaret Phillips said of the fire that ripped through her Whitney Point, New York, mobile home in November 2018. They had just put in new rugs that had to be ripped out after the fire, and many of the walls had to be torn down.

Fortunately, however, the only injury was a burned hand suffered by her son, Matthew, thanks to smoke alarms installed by Red Cross volunteers a month earlier. The alarms woke Matthew up, but he was unable to escape through the fire. Thankfully, the neighbors heard the smoke alarm and were able to contact Margaret and the local fire department, who were able to rescue Matthew.

“If it wasn’t for the smoke alarms, my son probably would never have gotten out of the house,” Margaret said. “Nobody would’ve have known it was burning, because where we live is so secluded. Nobody would’ve have ever known if it wasn’t for the smoke alarms going off.”

Margaret said the smoke alarms were still going off when she returned to the home four days later to begin the clean-up and recovery process. She also said the fire safety information provided by Red Cross volunteers during their installation visit helped Matthew stay safe until help arrived.

Since the Home Fire Campaign launched in 2014, volunteers in Western and Central New York have visited over 10,000 homes, making families safer by installing free smoke alarms and providing fire safety information. These efforts have saved at least 642 lives across the country, including 25–like Matthew Phillips–right here in Western and Central New York.

Learn more about Sound the Alarm by visiting redcross.org.

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Ames Davis’ Story: Carrying on Her Grandfather’s Red Cross Legacy

Tue, 10/08/2019 - 06:09
Ames with Lyle’s original Lifesaving Award (right), that had suffered water damage, and a newly printed Lifesaving Award (left) that Red Cross Training Services printed in his name for Ames to keep.

Ames Davis has always had a passion for the American Red Cross and joined the organization three years ago as Executive Director of the Red Cross El Paso and Southern New Mexico Region. Little did she know that when she accepted the position, she was carrying on her grandfather’s long history with the organization.

When Ames first applied for the position of Executive Director, her grandmother confessed that she knew Ames would get the job. “You’re your grandfather’s legacy,” she told Ames. At the time, Ames didn’t know what she meant but, a year later, when her grandmother passed, Ames had an unexpected visitor approached her at the funeral service who helped shed light on her grandmother’s words.

Before the service, Ames’s cousin handed her a Clara Barton Award and a Red Cross Lifesaving Award that belonged to Lyle Morgan; her grandfather. The Lifesaving Award had been issued to Lyle, a former Red Cross Lifeguard and CPR & First Aid Instructor, for his heroic actions to save a woman, named Maria, from drowning back in 1974.

“My grandfather recovered Maria from the bottom of the pool and performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation; restoring life to her. However, the story doesn’t stop there. Unbeknownst to my grandfather, Maria was pregnant at the time of this incident and both lives were saved,” Ames said.

After the funeral service, a woman approached Ames and asked if she worked for the Red Cross. Ames confirmed she did, having received the Executive Director position, and asked the woman how she knew her grandmother. She said, “I didn’t – I came because you work for the Red Cross and your grandfather saved my life.”

The woman was Maria, the person Lyle had saved from a near-fatal drowning incident over 40 years ago. Maria had come to pay respects to the people in Lyle’s life because he had saved hers.

Shortly after this greeting, Ames also learned that her grandfather had been an American Red Cross lifeguard, CPR & First Aid instructor and Disaster Chair of Hidalgo County, Texas, for 32 years.  He even received a Clara Barton Award for his dedication and service to the Red Cross.

Reflecting on all she had learned about her grandfather, Ames admits “I had no idea at the time that I had such big shoes to fill.”

Get Trained

You can make a difference like Ames and Lyle — learn lifesaving skills with the Red Cross by visiting redcross.org/takeaclass.

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Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Rosemarie Valdez

Wed, 10/02/2019 - 07:52

This Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re highlighting Hispanic men and women who play a pivotal role in helping the American Red Cross fulfill its humanitarian mission in communities every day. This week, we’re highlighting Rosemarie Valdez, Regional Communications and Marketing Program Manager for the American Red Cross in Puerto Rico. We spoke with her about Hispanic Heritage Month and the importance of giving back.

Why is Hispanic Heritage Month important?

It is important to celebrate this month because we owe this to ourselves. If we don’t celebrate it, we continue working tirelessly every day without recognizing our contribution to everyone who surrounds us. We have to recognize what we have contributed so far; from our family members, neighbors and communities to the lives we touch across the country. We need to make people aware of what we have done in our society, who we are, where we want to go, who we have impacted and who we will impact next. It will also remind future generations of the people who walked in their shoes before them and paved the way so they could have an opportunity to contribute positively to their community.

How does your Hispanic heritage influence your work with the Red Cross?

My Hispanic heritage influences the “how” I do my work more than the “what.” The dedication and the commitment that I put in my day-to-day work is a representation of my heritage. The personal investment that I put in my work with the people we serve is the same investment that I put into my personal relationships. The “Dios te bendiga” or blessings I have received from people we serve when we are out in the community are as genuine and profound as the blessings I receive from my mom every day when I talk to her on the phone before I get to work.

Describe your experience during Hurricane Maria.

When people ask me about Hurricane Maria, I have to take deep breaths and gather my thoughts, since it is still an open wound to all of us Puerto Ricans that lived through it. It has been the biggest challenge I have faced yet; full of learnings and experiences that I never imagined I could go through. However, what has been the most amazing thing is that I was able to experience the most genuine and sincere expression of what being a humanitarian is. I saw it through our volunteers, who had experienced personal losses, and even lost their homes, and still helped others during that critical time.

I also saw this in the faces of the people we served who I hugged, cried and laughed with. I carried cases of water to the survivors I spoke with on the island and did a lot of interviews to make sure that everybody outside the island who was watching could see what the Red Cross was doing to help. I tried to be the best storyteller I could be, just to make sure that I was being truthful to what we were experiencing and what the Red Cross was doing to reach and help the most people we could. We went through a lot of hardships, but we all learned in the process. Today, we all are better; I am better because of it. And I am extremely grateful that I get to do this work for a living. I get to do good and help people as my current life mission, and I am so glad it is through an organization like the American Red Cross. As a humanitarian organization, we are all just regular people doing what we are supposed to do every day in our communities.

Where is your family from?

My family is from Ponce, Puerto Rico, which is in the southern part of the island. However, I have been living in San Juan for more than 15 years. I was born here in Puerto Rico, but I consider myself a great Caribbean mix since my dad is from the Dominican Republic and my mom is from Puerto Rico.

Why is your Hispanic heritage important to you?

It is important because my heritage is a combination of what my parents are, what their parents were and what has been carried on for centuries. It is important to me because I love who we are. I love the depth of our traditions. I love the strong bonds that tie us together as a family. I love how we express ourselves through music, food and art. I love how resilient we are when we face challenges or hurricanes that strike us to our core. I love how we get up and fight every day to be better and do good.

What special point of view has your Hispanic heritage given you?

My heritage has allowed me to see different perspectives since I have been able to spend time with my family in the Dominican Republic and here in Puerto Rico too. This mix of cultures has allowed me to see how we all interact, how we relate to one another and how we connect. The warmth I receive from both cultures is the same feeling I want to share when I interact with different people in my work.

What does it mean for you to give back?

For me, to give back is cyclical, never ending. Every day I feel someone helps me and I also help someone. Whether it is grabbing something that someone dropped on the floor or stopping everything I have in a moment to be there for the people I love in a really difficult time. I also think that we shouldn’t have to realize we are giving back while we are doing it because it should be an innate action for all humans. So I like that we give back without recognizing it in the moment.

What is one thing you’d tell your 20-year old self?

To not be too hard on myself when I fail. To cry, get it out of my system, but then realize that maybe that was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Join Us

Like Rosemarie, you can make a difference with the Red Cross. Visit redcross.org/careers to search for opportunities.

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Why I Regularly Donate Blood for Sickle Cell and Childhood Cancer Patients

Mon, 09/30/2019 - 10:33

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month and Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. Many of us, (myself included) have changed our profile pictures to include frames and filters on various social media platforms this month that draw attention to sickle cell and childhood cancers. We can do one more thing – donate blood to help those battling these illnesses.

I was not a routine blood donor until well into adulthood. I didn’t understand what the need was or how important it was to donate blood. When I came to my current job as a physician who takes care of patients with blood disorders, I started a program where we go out into the community to recruit African American blood donors to help patients with sickle cell disease because there is a need. According to the American Red Cross, only three percent of the U.S. population donates blood and only a small fraction of those are of African descent.

Correcting Historical Hesitation Through Advocacy and Awareness

There are likely some historical reasons why people of color may be reluctant to donate blood. People who have the same blood type can be donors for each other, regardless of race. However, for patients who need blood frequently there is an even better option. We all have minor proteins in our red cells, which are more likely to be the same from people of a similar ethnicity. Because most donors are Caucasian, and the great majority of patients with sickle cell are of African and Latino descent, that means that recipients will not receive blood with the same minor proteins. For this reason, patients with sickle cell disease may develop reactions against the red cells they receive during transfusion therapy to treat their sickle cell crisis. So, there is a need to increase the diversity of blood donors in our community. We go out to schools and churches, and businesses and hospitals to recruit donors to donate blood. This program allows us to find the optimal match for our sickle cell patients who need blood sometimes every month.

What Happens When Blood is Not Closely Matched

Sickle cell patients can have debilitating pain episodes and complications that require frequent blood transfusions. Some patients need blood every month. There are some treatments that require patients to have their own blood removed and then they receive blood transfusions of 10-12 units of blood from 10-12 different donors. This exposes sickle cell patients to more problems with the possibility of developing reactions against these red cells. When that happens patients may have to come into the hospital more often, miss school and their parent may also miss work. This can be a real issue for kids who are already struggling with their disease and now need to miss additional days of school.

My Blood Donation Went Full Circle

As a pediatric hematologist who takes care of sickle cell and cancer patients, I was reminded recently of the impact of blood donation for these patients. I try to donate blood as often as I can for our Blood Donor program. I recently gave blood in June and followed the status of that donation via the Red Cross Blood Donor App, which I downloaded for free. Through the app, I can track the number of units I’ve donated and check when I’m eligible to donate blood again. This came full circle for me one busy summer afternoon. I was taking care of a patient who needed blood so I ordered it. Then I took care of the next patient in line, and what happened next was quite unique. I later realized that my blood donation may have actually made it back to a sickle cell patient in need – one that I treat at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

Blood and Platelets are Staples in Cancer Treatments    

You might wonder, what about cancer patients? Cancer patients are often weak due to their illness and cancer treatments needed to reduce rapidly growing cancerous cells. Unfortunately, these treatments zap bone marrow as well and patients can become anemic, which is a condition where the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells, causing patients to feel extremely tired and weak. Some of the lowest counts I have ever seen have been in these patients who come in to the emergency department on a Friday night, with parents who have grief, fatigue and worried expressions on their faces, when they should be at home enjoying family movie night. These patients need blood and platelets often; blood has a shelf life of 42 days and platelets expire after only 5 days. Currently the Red Cross has an emergency need for platelets, and I encourage all eligible donors to roll up a sleeve and give to help cancer patients too. Childhood cancer has made great strides in improving mortality rates and therapies have been tailored to improve outcomes, which is great news. Transfusions however will always be a staple of keeping these children alive.

Blood Donations are Possible Every 56 Days

As we approach the fall season and wrap up September, let’s plan to roll up a sleeve and give blood. You can schedule an appointment by completing a Rapid Pass® on the day of your donation, which you can also use to track your blood’s progress. I recently did this and was easily able to track the next time I could donate. I made sure to set up an appointment to give again. These kids deserve the best that we have to offer. Let’s give them a little love and a few red blood cells along the way this September, and every 56 days thereafter.

The post Why I Regularly Donate Blood for Sickle Cell and Childhood Cancer Patients appeared first on red cross chat.

Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet AJ Suero

Fri, 09/27/2019 - 10:55

This Hispanic Heritage Month, we’re highlighting Hispanic men and women who play a pivotal role in helping the American Red Cross fulfill its humanitarian mission in communities every day. This week, we’re highlighting AJ Suero, Regional Communication Program Manager of the Red Cross Eastern Pennsylvania Region. We spoke with him about Hispanic Heritage Month and the importance of giving back.

How and why did you get involved with the Red Cross?

Ever since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico (back in 2017), I felt a strong desire to help people. My church sent a group of volunteers down, and I was disappointed that I was not able to do anything to help. I told myself that I really wanted to find a way to serve the community, and a year later I was here.

How long have you worked at the Red Cross?

I celebrated my one year anniversary back in August. I’ll never forget my first day. Instead of participating in an orientation, I was sent right away to respond to flooding in the region. I hit the ground running, and have been serving people ever since. 

Why is your Hispanic heritage important to you?

I feel profoundly grateful to have had the opportunity to grow up in a Latino household. My earliest memories are a mashup of two distinct cultures which make me a Hispanic-American. On Saturday nights for example, we would watch the Golden Girls and then flip over to Univision to watch Sabado Gigante. I grew up understanding how to connect with people who had come from different walks of life, and that skill is so vital to humanitarianism.

Why is Hispanic Heritage Month important?

I believe that Hispanic Heritage is about cultural identity. We gain a better understanding of ourselves through our connection to our culture. There are so many different nationalities – Dominican, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Salvadorian, Guatemalan, Colombian, the list goes on and on. All of them are different in subtle and not-to-subtle ways, but to many outsiders we are all one thing. The beauty of Hispanic Heritage is that there is so much diversity even within a room of Spanish speakers.

How does your Hispanic heritage influence your work with the Red Cross? 

My heritage is a huge component of my work with the Red Cross. In my city, and my region, I strive to connect as many people as I can to the mission of the Red Cross. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to meet Latino business people, media members, students, adults and seniors who can recall the impact of Cruz Roja on their life while still living in their country of birth. There’s an instant connection – a familiarity and a sense of comfort when someone knows that you are Latino, and there is also a great sense of pride on their part in knowing that there are Latinos serving in a very visible position.

What does it mean for you to give back?

Giving back is a way to honor those who have contributed to my growth and professional development. Sometimes it can be as little as a smile or a word of encouragement. The things that seemingly don’t cost a lot can go a very long way, especially when someone has gone through the worst day of their life.

What is one thing you’d tell your 20-year old self?

I would tell my 20-year old self to spend more time studying people and less time playing Madden. Methods and technology change, but human nature is driven by the same basic hierarchy of needs.

How would you encourage others to get involved with the Red Cross or in their communities?

My advice would be to do what you can. Some people can donate, and that is always welcome. Others may not have that flexibility in the budget, but can volunteer. There is a feeling unlike anything else when you are able to touch the mission of the Red Cross, either by helping staff a shelter, or helping at a blood drive or helping a family that’s been through a traumatic event. When you can go to sleep knowing that you’ve helped someone – that truly is the greatest feeling in the world.

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Chance Social Media Connection Leads to Red Cross Help for Young Member of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Community

Fri, 09/27/2019 - 05:00

Originally published on redcross.org

Alyssa Probst sitting with Red Cross Utah Region Preparedness Manager Mallory Santa Cruz.

A chance meeting on social media helped American Red Cross employee Guillermo Cornavaca help a family hundreds of miles away be better prepared for home fire-related emergencies.

Cornavaca — who serves as Disaster Program Manager for the Red Cross Southwest Georgia — has a young son who uses a cochlear implant to hear. Cornavaca often spends time on a special Facebook Group page connecting with other parents of children with cochlear implants.

Kimber Probst posted on the page last July from her home near Salt Lake City, asking about bed shaker smoke alarms to protect her 9-year-old daughter Alyssa.

Alyssa is also a member of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community and uses a cochlear implant.

Identifying himself as a Red Cross employee, Cornavaca offered to help Probst connect with her local Red Cross.

“She was kind of hesitant, but I reassured her,” he said.

“He got in touch with someone here in Salt Lake and they reached out and contacted me,” Probst recalled. A few days later, Red Cross Utah Region Preparedness Manager Mallory Santa Cruz visited Probst’s home and installed the bed shaker alarm free of charge.

Bed shaker smoke alarms resemble typical alarm clocks. A vibrating attachment about the size of a deck of cards is placed underneath the bed’s mattress. When the alarm goes off, the attachment vibrates powerfully enough to wake someone up. It also has a flashing light and a speaker that yells “fire.”

“It went so much further than just installing a smoke alarm,” said Santa Cruz. It sparked a family conversation about home safety and creating a plan.

“It’s always been a concern of mine — that if there was a fire, Alyssa would be alerted,” Probst said. “Now, having this gives me peace of mind.”

September marks National Preparedness Month, when the Red Cross urges households and communities across America to prepare for emergencies. But, the Red Cross helps families get better prepared for the unexpected throughout the year by installing free smoke alarms and educating families on home fire safety.

The alarm the Red Cross installed for the Probst family is one of more than 1.5 million smoke alarms — including bed shakers — installed free of charge as part of the American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, which launched in 2014.

Home fires kill an average of seven people every day and the campaign has been credited with saving more than 620 lives nationwide, so far.

For Red Cross employee Cornavaca, helping the Probst family prepare for an emergency was a special experience — both professionally and personally.

“It was rewarding as a parent,” Cornacava said. “It made me feel like I was supporting another parent and helping them to know the different resources available to them.”

To learn more about Preparedness Month, including the three easy steps your family should take now to prepare for the next disaster, visit RedCross.org.

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Sisters Working to Make a Difference at the Red Cross

Thu, 09/26/2019 - 05:00
Sisters Danielle Warren (left) and Angela Jackson (right)

Danielle Warren and Angela Jackson both love working at the Red Cross together. The fact that they’re sisters is an added benefit that neither of them takes for granted. Read on to learn how these sisters are making a real and lasting difference in their roles at the Red Cross.

Starting Careers at the Red Cross

Danielle is the Chief Development Officer for the Red Cross Alabama Region, where she manages fundraising with corporations, foundations and individuals. Her sister, Angela, is a Blood Services Account Manager who helps ensure there is enough blood at hospitals in her region for patients who need it.

Danielle has worked with us for the last six years and loves contributing to an organization that has such a strong mission to help others in their time of need.

“I love the fact that we’re making a very real and tangible difference in the lives of people who need us most every day,” said Danielle.

Unlike Danielle, Angela first started with the Red Cross as a volunteer installing smoke alarms in homes for our Sound the Alarm campaign and greeting financial donors at fundraising events. Any time her sister reached out to ask her to volunteer, Angela jumped at the opportunity to give back. And her efforts didn’t go unnoticed. While volunteering at a fundraising event, Angela met her current supervisor and was hired months later.

Connecting to the Mission

Angela has type O negative blood, the universal blood type, which allows her donations to be used for any patient in need. Angela feels this gives her a special connection to her role in blood services. She has seen first-hand how blood donations can help patients in need since two of her cousins had sickle cell disease and another has leukemia. And she feels honored to be able to help people like her cousins battle illnesses through blood donations. The only source of lifesaving blood transfusions are voluntary blood donors, which is why Angela works hard to empower and motivate people to roll up a sleeve and give.

“It’s amazing to hear the stories of hope from patients who receive a blood or platelet transfusion that saves their lives,” said Angela.

Danielle also has a specific connection to the Red Cross. She remembers how the Red Cross came to her mother’s neighborhood to make sure every home had smoke alarms after an elderly couple died in a fire. It made her proud to know the Red Cross was there knocking on doors to help make sure no one else in the neighborhood experienced the same thing.

“The Red Cross is there for those who are having the worst day of their lives, whether you’ve lost everything in a disaster or need to get an emergency communications message to a family member in the military, we’re there for them,” said Danielle.

Sisters Danielle Warren (right) and Angela Jackson (left) A Unique Understanding

Danielle and Angela feel a special sense of pride knowing that they work for the same organization. They enjoy seeing and connecting with each other at work. And whenever one of them is having a hard day, the other is right by her side ready to encourage her.

“I love running into my sister. She’s my best friend and I can always rely on Danielle to understand me in ways that no one else can,” said Angela.

Join Us

Still wondering if working at the Red Cross is right for you? Take it from Danielle:

“The work you do at the Red Cross is some of the most fulfilling work you can find in the world. Being able to be a part of one of the largest humanitarian organizations across the globe fulfills me in a way that I can’t imagine finding anywhere else.”

Like Danielle and Angela, you can find a fulfilling career that makes a difference with the Red Cross. Tap here to search for career opportunities.

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Trusted Communications Services for Service Members

Tue, 09/24/2019 - 05:30

Originally published on the Red Cross Northwest Region blog

When Navy veteran Jodi Mackie suffered a medical emergency over Labor Day weekend, the Red Cross leaped into action to get her service member daughter notified and to her mother’s side.

Army Specialist Casey Mackie, stationed at Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, was scheduled to go on field maneuvers when her mother became ill with a ruptured appendix.

When the Red Cross Hero Care Network got word, they were able to notify Casey’s military command, who granted her leave so she could get to the hospital and be there for her mom. Red Cross volunteers later followed up to ensure mom was doing okay and all her local needs were met.

“We’re really appreciative for the services the Red Cross provides,” said Jodi Mackie, who is back home after a short hospital stay. “They’re there in times of need.”

Earlier in the year, in March, Service to Armed Forces officials also were able to help get Casey Mackie to Spokane when her grandmother fell gravely ill.

“It’s been a sad time for the family, but the Red Cross has been with us all the way,” said Jodi Mackie, who spent eight years in the Navy working as an air traffic control specialist.

Eric Reevesman, a Service to the Armed Forces program specialist in the Northwest Region, said the Mackies are part of more than 2,500 emergency cases the Red Cross sees in the Northwest Region in a typical year. Those cases resulted in more than 10,000 assistance actions by the region’s 15 volunteers assigned to help members of the military and civilian Defense Department workers when family emergencies arise.

“This is an extremely important service,” Reevesman said. “The Red Cross is the only organization in the nation providing this help to the armed services.”

When a military family experiences a crisis, the Red Cross is there to help. More than 110,000 military families reach out to the American Red Cross for emergency assistance each year. That’s approximately 300 military families per day. That’s why the American Red Cross has launched an online, self-service tool called the Hero Care Network. This FREE tool gives military families more flexibility and expanded access to help during times of crisis by allowing them to quickly communicate emergency messages 24/7 via computer, tablet, or even by smartphone.

Visit www.redcross.org/HeroCareNetwork for more information or to submit a request.

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Blood Donors Gave Back All That Cancer Took from Me

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 08:50

Today, I am 15-years-old and in 10th grade. At 12-years-old I was diagnosed with cancer; shortly before finishing the sixth grade Learning I had T- Lymphoblastic Lymphoma was one of the scariest days of my life. As a 12-year-old the first thing I thought was that I was going to die. I had no idea that instead, I would continue to learn and grow during this journey.

Over a course of four plus years my understanding of cancer and medical care in general increased a lot. I gladly learned that not all cancers mean death, a ton of medical terms and practices that I hope to one day put to use as a pediatric nurse practitioner. The biggest thing I learned was the need for blood products and how helpful they are to hospital patients, especially those battling cancer.

Blood and Platelets Helped me Feel Better  

During my cancer treatments, my blood counts and platelet counts would get very low. Eventually, I was able to tell when I needed to go to the hospital for a red blood transfusion. My face would turn pale and soon after I’d get a headache like I’ve never felt before. The pain was indescribable.

When I needed platelets, I would bruise very easily. There was a time when I accidentally ran into a pole. The next day I had a huge, dark bruise on my shoulder. It scared me when I saw it, but then I remembered what caused the bruise. I knew my platelets had to be low because I wouldn’t normally bruise like that.

When I received blood and platelet transfusions, I would usually need two units of both. The blood transfusion usually took about three hours and platelet transfusion took about two hours. They made me feel better immediately. Once, I had no energy left in my body after receiving my cancer treatments. I needed a blood transfusion badly. After it was over, I slept the whole afternoon. When I woke up, I had so much energy, and was able to attend a concert that same night. That’s how fast the blood products worked! I was so happy because I had been looking forward to going for weeks.

I relied on blood products very often during my fight with cancer. I’d go to the hospital once or twice a week to receive transfusions. During some visits I had to wait a few hours for blood or platelets to become available because the hospital was out. While waiting, I would overhear the nurses talking about how more people needed to donate blood. Sadly, my friends enduring cancer treatments experienced the same things. I knew once I was well that I would do my best to encourage more people to donate blood.

Through Lifesaving Blood my Eyes were Opened

Before I had cancer, I knew about the American Red Cross, but I never realized how this organization saved so many lives through blood products or how much they are truly needed in communities.

I wish I was able to help other patients in need by becoming a blood donor. However, I am not eligible to give because of the type of cancer I had. Instead, I proudly advocate for blood products through my school and community. Blood donations help to save countless lives; including mine.

All that cancer took away from me during my fight – from missed school days, missed conversations with friends and the ability to attend fun events – the Red Cross gave back to me. If I didn’t have blood and platelets during my treatments, I would not be able to lead life as a healthy teen.

I am so grateful to all the people that volunteered their time to donate blood that helped save my life. It doesn’t take much time to give blood. Please make the time and schedule an appointment today!

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How to Make a Plan for Emergencies in College

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 07:40

I must confess, before I started interning with the Red Cross, I didn’t think about what kind of action plan I would have in case of emergencies in my dorm room. I thought I would either not have to experience anything too intense or that the information my school offered would suffice if an emergency arose. Needless to say, natural disasters can happen anywhere, so here are some steps I took to feel more prepared.

Gathering Information

I wasn’t quite sure where to start and what to keep in mind, so I checked out some preparedness tips on redcross.org. I remember seeing tips like “get a kit”, “make a plan” and “be informed” prior to my search, but it was nice to delve deeper into what each tip entailed.

Personalizing My Plan

The next question I asked myself is, “What’s my plan?” When thinking about building a plan, I realized how important it is to incorporate the people living around you. Whether that’s your roommate, friends, hall mates, or loved ones, it’s important to talk to each respective group about what their plans are and how your plans can mesh together. With this in mind, I know whatever plan I make needs to be flexible. Such a reality encourages me to be open and speak to my hall mates, family, and friends so that any basic plan I make prior to a situation is as strong as it could be. Keeping that in mind…

Make it Flexible

Not only will the plan shift depending on the people around you, but also because of the situation at hand. Your response won’t be exactly the same for each scenario, so it’s good to know what disasters are likely to occur in your area whether it be tornadoes, landslides, and/or earthquakes. Charlottesville and the University of Virginia may provide shelters and areas to go to during an emergency, but at the end of the day, it’s good for you and the people in your life to learn as much as they can about natural disasters and how to prepare for them in advance.

You are accountable for yourself, but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone.

Want more info?

Check out redcross.org and download the free Red Cross Emergency App! They’re great resources for college students to use when preparing for natural disasters no matter where you live.

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School Bells and Sickle Cell

Tue, 09/10/2019 - 06:59
AJ and his sisters.

In the days leading up to the first school bells sounding, I was busy buying back-to-school supplies, lunch items and organizing weekly schedules. However, there’s one additional step I take every year along with most parents that have children battling illnesses—like sickle cell disease.

During meet-the-teacher night, I greet my son’s teacher with a smile and a folder full of resources. Aaron, whom we affectionately call AJ, is eight years old, entering the third grade and living with sickle cell disease. Most times he’s the only student at his school with sickle cell disease. As his mom, I feel better knowing that his teachers and administrators know about his disease and potential signs of a health crisis, in case he begins to suffer from one at school. My motto is, “If you don’t know, get educated!”

Sickle Cell Disease is Rare in the Latino Community

Of our three children, AJ is our youngest and only child with sickle cell disease. To us, our boy is happy and normal, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that he is in a rare population of 1 in 16,300 Latino children born in the U.S. with sickle cell disease.

This disease causes red blood cells to become hard and crescent-shaped instead of soft and round. As a result, blood has difficulty flowing smoothly and carrying oxygen to the rest of the body. When the body becomes deprived of oxygen it goes into a sickle cell crisis, which can lead to severe pain, tissue and organ damage, acute anemia and even strokes.

My husband and I both carry the sickle cell trait. I am originally from the Dominican Republic and he is originally from Ecuador. We knew there was a possibility that our son would inherit the disease, but it did not make the news any easier to swallow.

Coping with Crisis

AJ takes medication to help prevent a crisis, but in the back of my mind I fear that he will one day begin to suffer from the horrible and damaging side effects many labels warn about. Instead, I prefer that he receive lifesaving blood from generous blood donors to treat a crisis. It’s the most natural form of relief, that cannot be manipulated or manufactured, but leaves AJ dependent on volunteer donors to give.

My son is such a good boy and receives blood transfusions with no complaints or tears. He was born into this and needles don’t scare him one bit. Within minutes of receiving a blood transfusion, I watch his strength restored, pain vanish and energy return—soon he transforms back to himself—a rambunctious little boy. If an eight-year-old can withstand a needle, so can you.

In the U.S. about 100,000 people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds are living with sickle cell disease, most of whom are of African or Latino descent. A patient in need is more likely to find a compatible blood match from a donor of the same race and ethnicity.

A blood donation from a diverse donor can help tremendously as students battling sickle cell disease go back to school this year and fight crises. My son and so many sickle cell patients are relying on your generosity. Schedule your blood donation through the American Red Cross today and play your important part in ensuring diverse blood is available for sickle cell patients in need.

Parenting a Student with Sickle Cell is Tough

Although AJ looks healthy and bright eyed, there are challenges that he might encounter that his classmates will not.

He misses between three and five weeks of school each year due to complications from a crisis. It’s hard for him to miss field trips or fun school events. We’ve tried to recreate the experience when he’s feeling better, but it’s not the same. During longer absences he complains about missing his friends and sadly, I can’t provide much of a solution. I can only hope that he feels better soon enough to get back to school.

As a protective parent, I don’t allow AJ to go back to school until I know he’s 100% healthy. Sitting on hard seats and climbing flights of stairs can be unbearable when he is going through a sickle cell crisis. Although they try their best, a teacher can’t give him undivided attention like my husband and I can at home. Plus, I know he hates experiencing pain in front of his friends.

Our family has become outspoken advocates for sickle cell disease awareness, and we encourage AJ to participate in some sickle cell events. I want him to always know that although he is 1 in 16,300 Latinos born with sickle cell disease he is not alone. There is a community of people willing to donate lifesaving blood to treat sickle cell disease and his mom is his fiercest supporter.

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Red Cross Volunteer Travels to Georgia to Help with Hurricane Dorian Relief Efforts

Thu, 09/05/2019 - 08:06

Originally published on redcross.org

Gary Weinstein and Betty Blessing welcomed fellow Red Cross volunteer Pam Pampe to Atlanta Saturday, as she traveled to help with Hurricane Dorian relief efforts. 
Photo Credit: Thom Patterson

American Red Cross disaster relief volunteer Pam Pampe has turned her experience surviving one of America’s worst hurricanes into a mission to help others — including those who may be affected by Hurricane Dorian.

In 1992, Pampe lived in southern Florida where Hurricane Andrew, a monstrous Category 5 storm, forced nearly a quarter million people from their homes. Surviving and recovering from that storm inspired Pampe to become a Red Cross volunteer and show others that they can make it too.

“It gives me a chance to reassure them that in the long run they’re going to be fine,” Pampe said. “Stronger, more resourceful and wiser.”

Pampe is just one of more than 1,600 trained Red Cross volunteers from all over the nation who’ve been deployed to the Southeastern U.S. to help with Dorian relief efforts. The Red Cross has also pre-staged a fleet of over 100 emergency response vehicles and shipped more than 100 tractor-trailer loads full of relief supplies – including cots and blankets in preparation for the storm.

On August 30, Pampe flew from where she now lives, in Virginia, to Atlanta. On this deployment, she is hoping to drive an Emergency Response Vehicle.

Helping Pampe and dozens of other volunteers make their way through Atlanta’s busy and sprawling airport were two welcome ambassadors from the Red Cross Georgia Region — Gary Weinstein and Betty Blessing.

Blessing – who has deployed in the past as a Red Cross volunteer – also has lived in South Florida, where she faced down her share of powerful hurricanes.

“If I came off a plane by myself traveling on a Red Cross deployment, it might be a little bit overwhelming,” Blessing said. “So if they can see a friendly face who’s also with the Red Cross, I think it makes a world of difference.”

As many as 60,000 people across Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas may need emergency shelter from Hurricane Dorian and Red Cross volunteers will be there to provide it.

As Pampe put it: “My job now is to offer a smile and a handshake and ask how can I help.”

For up to date evacuation center and emergency shelter information and for Hurricane Dorian-related safety tips, visit RedCross.org or download the FREE Red Cross Emergency App.

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Personal Trauma Compels Blood Donor to Give Back

Wed, 08/28/2019 - 07:00

Orginally published on redcross.org

Volunteer Amy Erickson donates blood in Sioux Falls, SD on February 26, 2019.

I never really understood the importance of donating blood until I was the one needing it.

In 2010, a pulmonary embolism nearly cost me my life. I recovered with the help of strong blood thinning medication, which ironically, would later threaten my life.

Those medications caused my blood to become too thin and I required a transfusion of two units of blood and one of plasma to replenish my supply.

As I lay in the Intensive Care Unit too weak to move watching someone else’s O- blood flowing into my arm, I realized what an important gift it was. Later I learned I can only receive O- blood. No other type will work.

I decided that day I would become a donor. I didn’t realize at the time what a challenge that would be.

My first attempt at donating blood was a couple years after my transfusion. It was unsuccessful because the phlebotomist could not pin down my uncooperative veins. That continued to be the outcome on many subsequent attempts so, frustrated, I stopped trying.

Then, in 2017, I became a volunteer for the Red Cross.

One of my first experiences was volunteering at a blood drive. Again, I felt a responsibility to donate blood just like that stranger had when I needed it most.

I had also learned that O- blood is always in need because it can be given to almost anyone else, no matter their blood type.

I tucked my anxiety away and signed up for a blood donation. While the phlebotomist was preparing for the donation, I told him about my other unsuccessful experiences. Undaunted, he said, “oh we’re going to get blood today.”

And he did.

Finally, I was able to give back just like that selfless blood donor did for me when I needed it most.

Kudos to the men and women trained to collect blood from donors like me because since I became a donor, only once have I been unable to donate.

I’m telling my story to encourage others to donate because you never know when you’re going to be the one on the receiving end.

As for me, I’m going to continue to donate blood because I can be certain that my donation will matter to someone.

And maybe, that someone, will become a blood donor.

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In retirement, SAF volunteer Holsinger is proud to be ‘somebody who cares’ for veterans and service members

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 13:30

Originally published on the Red Cross Wisconsin Stories blog

Rich Holsinger preps Service to the Armed Forces materials for his activities with veterans and service members in the Madison area.

Volunteers may not always have a background in the area where they dedicate their time and talent. But they’ve all got the passion.

Rich Holsinger is a retired professional who has spent his career honing his managerial skills in regional management positions at a national retail giant and a popular coffee roaster. After his retirement, Rich began working with the American Red Cross two years ago as a lead volunteer at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison with the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Department.

On the surface, Rich’s volunteer work with SAF is quite a bit different than his professional background. SAF at the Red Cross proudly serves veterans, service members and their families. All the same, since taking up his volunteer leadership role, Rich has made a remarkable impact on the lives of numerous veterans and their families and caregivers.

“The volunteers don’t do a lot of talking, but we do a lot of listening. It’s interesting to hear their stories and just show them that there’s somebody who cares,”Rich said in regards to why he enjoys serving and working with his team.

Click here for a list of veterans and active duty resources from the American Red Cross, as well as to find out ways you can help.

Rich has created exciting weekly programming for patients including activities such as dinners with game nights, BINGO with prizes, tailgate parties, nightly performances from local music groups and sing-a-longs.

“With the different programs we’re running now, whether you’re working with a veteran or you’re working with a caregiver of a veteran, to see them relax, to see them talk about something else rather than medical … I usually get more out of it than I put into it. I find it very rewarding,” Rich said.

In two weeks, Rich is looking forward to hosting the Madison V.A.’s first picnic.

“We’re working with the V.A. to ensure that we have the right kind of food for them… the Red Cross will supply all of the food and the hospital will prepare it,” he said.

He also spoke about how some hotels in the area including Stay Bridge Suites Middleton/Madison-West have provided spaces for veterans during their time at the Madison V.A. as well as resources for events for veterans and their caregivers.

While Rich is truly enjoying his role and continuing to help the Red Cross team at the Madison V.A. grow, he didn’t have plans to volunteer for the Red Cross before his retirement and explained more about why he chose to apply as a volunteer for the Red Cross and got his start as the new lead volunteer at the Madison V.A. Medical Center.

Rich had been retired for about five months when he realized that he didn’t want to just retire and focus on himself and play golf all day, one of his favorite pastimes. With the extra time on his hands, he wanted to make a difference in his community where he could and help people in need.

He began researching volunteer organizations and found a volunteer position that was seeking “somebody to take charge and start building some programs for the veterans at the hospital in the area.”

Rich said that two people who have been monumentally helpful and amazing to work with on projects are Richard Seymour, SAF Program Director, and Michelle Matuszak, SAF Manager. Rich said Matuszak and Seymour have been instrumental in helping Rich on his volunteer journey, and he’s thankful that they gave him the freedom to “do his own thing.” The praise goes both ways.He knew that his vast experience of managing people in project and program development would be a great fit. He saw it as an exciting opportunity to do what he enjoyed and was familiar with and put his passion and talent to the test, starting with new entertainment and program development for veterans and their families and caregivers.

“We had issues with getting leadership in the Madison V.A.,” Seymour said. “Within a year Rich has started and established programs, built a volunteer team and … controls the budget we have established for the Madison V.A. I wish I could clone him 10 times!”

Find out how you can become a Service to the Armed Forces volunteer here. 

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First time Blood Donor Fights Fears to Become Lifesaving Hero

Thu, 08/22/2019 - 11:00

Originally published in Chadds Ford Live

When I was in high school, my sister and I would run home from the bus stop, throw our books down on the kitchen table and dash into the den to watch “Dark Shadows,” a soap opera about Barnabas Collins, a tormented vampire roaming the docks of 1795 Collinsport, Maine, looking for his next victim while seeking the face of his lost love Josette, and wanting nothing more than to become mortal. So when I’d hear of people donating blood, I’d shudder, imagining it would be like being attacked by a vampire and feeling your life grotesquely draining away. And then again there were those uh…needles.

Like many of you, I give to the American Red Cross whenever there’s a national disaster like a flood, hurricane or wildfire. But I’ve never considered donating blood — oh no, not me. Even when I go to the local lab to get my blood drawn to check my A1C and cholesterol, the tech always says, “I can’t find a vein. Maybe I better try your other arm.”

And then I go home with a bruise the size of Delaware inside my elbow.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from the American Red Cross about an emergency need for blood donations, indicating there was only a three-day supply of most blood types on hand. While our nation’s blood supplies have dropped precipitously as donors go on summer vacations – trauma, surgery, cancer, leukemia or sickle cell anemia patients don’t take vacations.

A Few Surprising Blood Facts

Only three percent of the population gives blood, but every two seconds someone in the United States needs it!

Blood can be safely donated every 56 days. Red blood cells have a shelf life of only 42 days.

Accidents and traumas are unpredictable, one accident victim can need many units of blood. During an emergency it’s the blood already on hospital shelves that helps save lives.

Through August 29, 2019, Amazon is offering a $5 Amazon.com Gift Card via email to all donors that roll up a sleeve to give. Schedule your appointment to give today.

Donating Blood was Quick and Painless

So I took a deep breath, went online and clicked a time slot at the local Red Cross Donation Center in West Chester that was less than 10 minutes from our home. It’s tucked away in a little shopping center. Inside it was calm and peaceful. About ten or more people reclined on special chairs giving blood. No one looked the least bit distressed.

Most of your appointment is spent on a mini-physical which includes pulse, blood pressure, a quick blood hemoglobin test and a health history.

To save time, the health history can be done online the day of your appointment using RapidPass®. You will be asked about certain foreign countries where you may have lived, prescription and non-prescription drugs use as well as any unsafe practices that might put your blood at risk.

If you pass the health history and hemoglobin test, it’s on to your station.

Except for the brief pinch you feel when the needle goes in, the actual collecting of blood is totally painless and takes about eight minutes. Surprisingly, I was not one bit dizzy or unsteady when I got up.

After a few minutes at the snack table enjoying some cold cranberry juice and munching on a granola bar, I walked out to my car and drove home feeling no different, except for the knowledge that my pint of O Positive, or its components, would save more than one life.

And guess what…not one bit of bruising. What pros!

Now listen up all you good, red blooded people. No one would ever consider me brave. Hey – I’m scared of Ferris Wheels. Right now the Red Cross is experiencing an emergency need for blood donations and www.redcross.org/give-blood.html desperately needs you to donate blood now. If I can do it, so can you!

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