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10 Years After Surviving Cardiac Arrest: Jessie and Bradley’s Story

Mon, 06/10/2019 - 11:18
Jessie, Bradley and their daughter Sylvana, 2019.

In July 2009, Jessie and Bradley were only two weeks away from their wedding date and were expecting their first child. Both Jessie and Bradley had served in the U.S. military, and Jessie had just returned from a 10-month deployment in Iraq as a certified combat lifesaver. They were looking forward to beginning their lives together when the unexpected happened.

At their local gym, Jessie saw Bradley stumble off the treadmill and fall to the ground. She didn’t know at the time that Bradley was in cardiac arrest due to an undiagnosed cardiomyopathy. Hearing the commotion, physical trainer Amy Holmes ran to the scene. She was a month away from completing a nursing degree and had also served in the military as a combat lifesaver.

Jessie’s sister grabbed an AED and brought it to Amy who was monitoring Bradley’s condition while awaiting EMS’ arrival. After less than a minute, his heart completely stopped. Amy administered an AED shock, performed chest compressions and gave one rescue breath when suddenly, his eyes opened. “Why am I lying down next to the treadmill?” asked Bradley.

Jessie and Bradley, 2009. Jessie’s Reflections Ten Years Later

Jessie reflects on this life altering experience:

“After Bradley’s life was restored that day it changed the path of my life in ways I could have never imagined. We have had the joy of raising our wonderful daughter, Sylvana, together and Amy is Sylvana’s Godmother. We all live in the same small town and keep in touch regularly.

Bradley had open heart surgery in 2014 to relieve the worsening symptoms of his cardiomyopathy and we go jogging now, while I keep a close eye on him. We stay CPR certified for our professions, and frequently request AED defibrillators be placed in public locations that are lacking them. You never know when they can save a life!  

If Bradly would have lost his life that day, I would not be writing this now. We are abundantly grateful for every day, both good and bad because we are fortunate enough to have these days to share thanks to Amy and the training she received.”

Register for Lifesaving Training

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The post 10 Years After Surviving Cardiac Arrest: Jessie and Bradley’s Story appeared first on red cross chat.

After the Storm: One Aid Worker’s Month in Mozambique

Thu, 06/06/2019 - 08:46

The thunder of a small biplane has just roared overhead as I look out the window. A sound that never phased me before my most recent disaster deployment, it now elicits a wave of sensations. In a flash, I’m transported back to our Emergency Operations Center—oceans away in Mozambique.

In a span of six weeks, two cyclones of hurricane strength pummeled the people of southeastern Africa. First by Cyclone Idai, followed by Cyclone Kenneth to the north—pinning the region back on the map of current events the world wanted to know about.

Katie and Gina Tomas Duarte, a resident of Beira, find time to connect and laugh despite the hardship many face in communities across Mozambique.

After a 40-hour trip from Chicago, I arrived just after the first storm wiped out 90 percent of the dense coastal city of Beira. My mission: To help the Mozambique Red Cross raise awareness about humanitarian needs and empower survivors of the storm tell their stories.

Our Red Cross basecamp tents lay adjacent to eleven tons of relief supplies being loaded systematically onto cargo planes, ready for airdrop. On my daily journey to the base, my eyes became locked downwards, scouting where my boots stepped, keeping watch for cobras per the security briefing I received on my first day. “And keep an eye out for crocodiles in the river. But don’t forget, the number one killer in all of Mozambique is the mosquito.” Extra stocks of malaria medication were in all of our delegate kits.

Since 2010, I have proudly worn my American Red Cross vest as a volunteer. This emblem is the only thing that has stood between me and the stories of disaster survivors released in the rawest form. I witness pieces of lives turned upside down, unfiltered. They roar from the tongues of mothers who have gone through hell protecting their children, and dance from the feet of toddlers running in circles, grasping at my pant legs in between their little panting breaths. I enter their world as a visitor, often leaving with more questions than answers.

Glimpsing into one Father’s Eyes

It is my second full day in Beira. I stand in a straight line, one of nine relief workers waiting to board the helicopter headed to Buzi, an area entirely inaccessible by road weeks after the first cyclone hit.

One by one, we step forward as our names are called. I watch each of the international agencies represented by the logos on our vests and am reminded of the enormous scale of this relief effort—Save the Children, USAID, World Food Programme, UNICEF, OCHA, Red Cross Red Crescent. We have flown from around the globe to support local teams attempting to reach the 1.5 million people affected by the storm.

I grab a pair of red earphones strung on a wire above the seats in the helicopter and keep them around my neck until we are ready for lift off. The smell of fuel meets my nose as I watch the lopsided, windstruck palms grow smaller out the porthole window.

A half hour later, we begin our descent over the latte colored Buzi River, peering into homes and businesses standing naked without roofs. These parts of life were not meant to be exposed, the entire town an open wound. I spend the day talking with local residents to learn what they need so I can report back to my team. At first glance, I see a line of people waiting peacefully. Looking closer, I see that one by one, they are receiving free cholera vaccines from a local nurse, a promising sign as the disease quickly turned into an outbreak—leaping from five to 5,000 cases within weeks.

Through the red-veined whites of his eyes, a father of two looks at me as I reach the port, a busy area. He drops the limp chicken hanging in his right hand to grab my own. I had mistaken it for a dead bird, but saw its head jerk once slamming the ground. A neighbor helps translate: The father had lost everything and is now sleeping in the streets. His days spent transporting families from one bank of the river to the other in his wooden boat.

He looks down as a glassy wetness suddenly takes over his eyes. I shove down the needles I feel puncture my own heart. He goes back to pick up his chicken.

Maria Luisa was carried through neck high water with the help of a neighbor the night Cyclone Idai hit. She is still unable to walk, but takes comfort in her daughter and granddaughter staying with her in Buzi, Mozambique.

Slowly, he and thousands of others will start the road to recovery. But no matter how many disasters I respond to, it has never gotten easier feeling the pain of others I meet. I must accept that I can never take away the hurt, no matter how hard I try. No tarp or medical procedure we provide will ever feel like enough.

Mud is caked on the sides of buildings and a visible water line stands waist height—demonstrating how high the waters had risen during the cyclone. A woman tells me she waded through neck-high water, unable to walk, as she clung to her neighbor.

I meet Ismail, a Mozambique Red Cross volunteer for 12 years, who told me that since the cyclone hit, he separates each grain of rice from the mud by hand to salvage what he can still eat. He had stood on rooftops for three days enveloped by the floodwaters but continues to proudly help his neighbors.

Our teams lead emergency supply distributions where families receive basic relief items to help them through these difficult days. We often target the most vulnerable first: female heads of households with children, for example. In camps filled with those with nowhere to go after the storm, Red Cross workers are also busy installing water filtration systems to provide clean drinking water and building toilets and showers. Workers fan out, leading focus groups to assess how life was different before the cyclones hit: a difficult task for communities struggling to meet their basic needs even before the storm hit.

Aid Worker Life in Mozambique

No two days of the month I spent in Mozambique were alike, but I quickly created routine. In close quarters with my fellow Red Cross and Red Crescent teammates, privacy turned comical. I learned to take fast showers as the backup generators usually went out multiple times a day. We kept collapsible jerry cans filled with water nearby in case we wanted the luxury of flushing toilets.

I peeled off my soaked red polo shirt one evening, stepping into the shower to wash off the dirt and emotions I’d harbored. Moments later, I heard the familiar drooping “ka-zoom” sound of the power shutting off. Knowing I had about 10 precious seconds before we lost water completely, I cupped what water I could as the stream slowly died to a trickle – a bit like playing a game. I look up at a moving shape and see our resident tree frog climbing up the wall. Showering by the mood light of a headlamp became slightly atmospheric.

The Scars of Survival

Days later, we are able to drive three hours north to the small fishing village of Ndjalane to reach a community previously cut off from aid. We pass baboons meandering on the roadside. Just ahead is our convoy of hundreds of tools, blankets, buckets, hygiene items and kitchen sets. I watch the trucks wheels get stuck in the sand, a foot deep in areas where there previously was none.

“We are so worried. We still worry. Nothing about this is easy,” says Celeste, the matriarch of her town.

There, I meet Celeste, a matriarch of the town. Making our way along pathways drenched in sun through the tropical town, it was clear that neighbors had done anything but wait around for help to come. Men stand on roofs, patching them with palm leaves and strips of makeshift plastic. A young mother works to rebuild her home’s walls by rolling and stacking balls of mud between sticks. When we reach Celeste’s house, we stand confused at first. What damage? To the naked eye, it looks untouched. Her son explains to us that the night Cyclone Idai hit, Celeste was alone as the winds picked up. Frightened, she ran to a neighbor’s home to seek shelter, only to have the house collapse on both of them. Together, they ran to the local church praying aloud when moments later, the church crumbled, too. Her final refuge was another neighbor’s home, filled with parents struggling to hold the roof and protect their children.

The house proved no match to the winds. Behind Celeste, a wall toppled onto an eight-year-old boy taking his life. “We are so worried. We still worry. Nothing about this is easy,” she told us. Nevertheless, she got to work repairing what she could in the days following. Now, her home stands largely on its own, a model for the others still perished around it.

It will take years for the people of Mozambique to recover. But what is full recovery, anyway? It is the scars of survival I have been privileged to witness that remind me what we are each capable of enduring. To break down is to learn of our strength. And to meet each other where we are—often in the eyes hardest to look into—is the greatest piece of our heart we can give.

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CPR & AED Awareness Week: Q&A with Dr. Markenson

Wed, 06/05/2019 - 07:09

David Markenson, MD, serves as the Chief Medical Officer for the Red Cross Training Services Division. In his 25 years as a physician, he’s seen how CPR and AEDs can save lives.

Tell us about the first time you performed CPR.

I was 15 years old and a summer lifeguard when someone went into cardiac arrest at the pool. The whole team went into response mode and activated our pool emergency plan. The front desk called 9-1-1; I started performing CPR; and the team got the AED.  We did exactly as we were trained.

When working in hospital did you have experience with bystander CPR/AED?

One summer when I was running the pediatric emergency department in Westchester, a child fell down going to second base in a Little League game. He was unconscious and wasn’t breathing. Two parents and a coach started CPR; others got an AED. After we stabilized him in the ER, we looked at the AED data and discovered that he was born with an abnormal cardiac rhythm. The boy got an implantable defibrillator and went home. That was one of four saves in two weeks from “regular people” doing CPR and using an AED, all of them on children.

How have things changed in the 25 years that you’ve been a physician?

I now see AEDs everywhere. Even if you haven’t been trained, if you see someone suddenly collapse, I urge you to grab an AED off the wall and turn it on. It will tell you what to do, and it won’t go off unless the person needs a shock. Apps are another great tool. Even if you’ve been trained in CPR, turning on the steps in the Red Cross First Aid app can give you that extra bit of confidence and direction. Lastly, call 9-1-1 as they can guide you through CPR and first aid.

Why is CPR + AED Awareness Week important?

This week gives us the opportunity to remind people that anyone can save a life. People are afraid of not knowing what to do or doing the wrong thing. If you are trained by the Red Cross, you will always know what to do in an emergency.

Okay, but it’s still scary. Can’t I just call 9-1-1?    

Calling 9-1-1 is always an excellent first step. The dispatcher can help guide initial actions and send help.  In cardiac arrest, the person’s heart has stopped, so even though starting CPR can be scary, doing anything is an improvement and might save their life.  If you are untrained or unwilling to give breaths, doing compressions is a great first step.  But to give the person the best chance, compressions with breaths are the choice, so taking a CPR course is a great thing to do.

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Celebrating Pride Month: Meet Leah Foxhill 

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 06:00

This Pride Month, we’re celebrating our staff and volunteers who are part of the LGBTQ+ community. Each and every day they work to carry out our humanitarian mission in communities across the country. This week, we’d like to highlight Leah Foxhill who helps recruit blood services volunteers in Minnesota and serves as the Co-Chair of the American Red Cross Pride Team Resource Group. Here is a conversation we had with her around Pride Month and the importance of diversity and representation.

Why is Pride Month important to you? 

Visibility and representation matter. For one month, our nation shows its support for our community and we are given platforms to express ourselves publicly in a way that we might not otherwise be empowered to do. It also serves as a flagship to remind folks that our community exists, as it always has, and serves as a time to reflect on where we are. For far too long, we had to operate in the shadows, in closets, and in secret. The struggle for acceptance and recognition has been a long and arduous one, with lives lost and families torn apart. From that, we have built a community based on love and understanding, and are able to offer that to other marginalized groups. Pride Month means we evaluate where we have come from, and the sacrifices others have made to get us to where we are. It gives hope to the next generation that they are not alone, and that they have a home with us. We also get to revel in the diversity and beauty of our community. Every kind of awesome human imaginable is represented under our rainbow umbrella! Strangers embrace one another, and we lift each other up as we keep marching towards full equality for everyone.

What drew you to the Red Cross?

I came to the Red Cross because of the wide breadth of the services we offer, and the longstanding history of serving those that need it the most. The Red Cross is strongly formed on the shoulders of neutrality and impartiality, and that really connected with me. Then I read a bunch of biographies of Clara Barton herself, and she just blew me away! What an inspiring person and a lofty mission to have. How can you not want to be a part of that?

What is one of your favorite Red Cross Moments?  

One of my favorite Red Cross moments happened at a volunteer appreciation event. I was wearing my rainbow diversity pin and an older volunteer I had not met came up to me and struck up a conversation. She noticed my pin and was overwhelmed that the Red Cross would have such a branded, visible rainbow available to show support and inclusion. We ended up talking about all kinds of experiences she has had, from living as an atheist and how she was drawn to us for our neutrality, to her increasingly vocal support of the queer community. I gave her the pin off my sweater and she beamed with gratitude, and immediately put it on. She walked all through the event showing it off, and later came up to see how she could better spread our message of inclusivity and gave me a big hug.  Something as small as a pin can have a large impact, and helping just one person feel inspired can change the entire culture.

What is the Red Cross Pride Resource Group and how does it help Red Cross staff and volunteers? 

We are the national group for the LGBTQ+ community (and allies) within the Red Cross—volunteers, employees, and partners. We are exactly what the name suggests—a resource. We are proud to represent our community within this organization, and work closely as an advisory body, support network, and educational resource to our membership and to the organization as a whole. We have established a vibrant and diverse membership, which better enables us to work from within to develop trainings and offer new insights to the Red Cross. We always have room to expand and encourage everyone who feels a connection to this community to join!

What does it mean for you to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community and work at the Red Cross? 

Being a part of both the queer and Red Cross community means so much to me. The Red Cross has always been seen as a leader, both nationally and internationally, in its policies and work serving marginalized communities. Showing that the Red Cross is an organization that embraces diversity, and fosters acceptance and support for the queer community, has a broad and lasting impact not just internally but will ripple out to the country as a whole. In times where many in my community are feeling like they are not supported, or are struggling to exist authentically within the laws and culture of this country, the Red Cross is a visible beacon of hope. Based on the sheer size and impact of the Red Cross, it serves as a voice of reason and calm that reaches every corner of America.

What does giving back mean to you?

Giving back means using my time, talent, and resources to help others. I am lucky in that I have some of all of the above to offer, and was fortunate enough to benefit from others offering me the same as I was growing up. It’s the “pay it forward” mentality—if you are able, do. Being able to provide support or insight to others so that their lives can improve is one of the greatest privileges we have. Simply existing authentically and visibly can have an impact, and I try to live my life that way every day. Giving back can mean different things at any point in time—a financial donation, organizing events, or just sitting to talk with someone who needs to feel heard. I want my son to see firsthand what empathy and service is so that he can take that knowledge and spread it to the next generation. He is a lucky little guy, as all of his parents and grandparents are kind and generous people who lead by example.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your 20-year-old self?

There is a lot of heartbreak in the world, but also more love and beauty than you ever could imagine. Don’t hold yourself back from any new experiences, even if you think you’ll fail. Use those lessons to grow and bring others up along with you. Also, your parents are cool and were right about basically everything ? Use that, remember that, emulate that as you navigate parenthood.

What would you tell someone who is interested in working or volunteering with the Red Cross? 

DO IT! There is so much opportunity that no matter what your interests or talents are, you have a home here.

The post Celebrating Pride Month: Meet Leah Foxhill  appeared first on red cross chat.

Having a Plan Helped My Family Stay Safe during the Dayton Tornado

Wed, 05/29/2019 - 07:56

In that glorious window of time between putting the kids to bed and succumbing to sleep myself, I had planned to do the dishes. After I placed the baby in his crib, my husband came in from hauling mulch bags to report that a tornado watch alert had popped up on his phone.

We turned on the news to check and didn’t turn it off for the next four hours. We watched the radar as tornadoes formed. We heard meteorologists reporting with increasing urgency. And as we looked at our sweet kids sleeping via their video monitors, we wrestled with a decision no parent wants to face: when to grab the kids and head to our safe spot.

The final tornado warning came through just before midnight – a second possible tornado was forming behind the one that had already caused major destruction in Trotwood and Beavercreek. This new one had a potential southbound track.

We kept watching carefully, mindlessly repeating “Oh my gosh,” (as one does in unbelievable situations), trying to figure out what landmarks might be in the path.

While I normally stick to a quiet, dark room for nighttime feedings, last night I nursed the baby next to a glowing TV, obsessively refreshing Twitter and fielding new alerts on my Red Cross Emergency App. Thankfully, the last tornado-warned cell stayed north of us. I breathed a sigh of relief as my 6-month-old baby slept soundly on my chest with a full tummy, oblivious to the destruction we narrowly avoided.

There are three main things I have in place to stay safe and informed in emergency situations like this that I highly recommend other families put together. Luckily, the threat never got close enough to wake everyone and get in the bathtub, but we were ready.

Find a Way to Get Real-time Information

We don’t have cable, but when we cut the cord we decided to install an antenna to get local news stations. We really only turn it on if I wake up before the kids and can watch the TODAY show (it’s the little things, folks!), and for emergency weather situations. I would have been beside myself last night had we not been able to watch local meteorologists tracking tornado paths, which helped us make smart, informed decisions for our family.

I have our location saved in the Red Cross Emergency App, which sends out real-time alerts for a long list of possible disasters. I also have alerts saved for my family members, which came in handy last night as the storms headed straight to my sister’s town.

Additionally, I can check this app for other ideas about what preparedness items to collect, where to go and how to stay safe when my brain is in overdrive during an emergency.

Have an Easy Action Plan

When we first moved into our single-story ranch home, we had to figure out our safe spot. Typically, it’s the most interior room on the lowest level of your home. We don’t have a basement, so we identified our master bathroom tub as the most interior spot in the house to shelter from a tornado. Last night we slipped on our tennis shoes (in case we had to walk through debris) and grabbed our bike helmets from the garage. The baby’s car seat was even moved to the bathroom in lieu of a helmet, and I found myself wishing I too had a five-point harness contraption for protection. We had pillows ready to cover our heads, and even a whistle in the room in case we needed to lead rescuers to our location.

My husband and I both know our safe spot, we know what items to grab (shoes, helmets, pillows, etc.) and even assigned ourselves each a kid to grab so we are on the same page and can act quickly.

Stock Emergency Supplies and Water

This morning we learned we’re under a boil advisory and there’s an urgent need to conserve water, since the water plants are out of power. We already have gallons of water with spigots tucked in the corners of our garage, so I hauled one out for dishes, drinking and hand-washing. Thank goodness we already had them bought and stored – dragging a 3-year-old and a baby to the grocery store during a community-wide run for water would not be fun.

I also make sure to keep a rotating stock of dry goods that we can eat in case we lose electricity or water, and a host of other useful items like lanterns, a hand-crank radio and even cash for emergencies. I’m a big list maker, so luckily the Red Cross has already compiled some great ideas of what to have on hand for emergencies.

Dealing with the Aftermath

Today I’m left with a sink full of dirty dishes, unable to use our water safely. If a boil advisory is all we are left with, and our friends and family members have checked in safe, I’m grateful. Many folks in our community are dealing with a long road of recovery, so I’m keeping my eye out for official accounts and established, reputable organizations to donate to and lend a hand to my neighbors.

(By the way, if you are wondering how you can prepare your own family, the American Red Cross has some awesome ideas to get started).

The post Having a Plan Helped My Family Stay Safe during the Dayton Tornado appeared first on red cross chat.

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month: Meet Michelle Peterson

Tue, 05/28/2019 - 08:43

This Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, we’re highlighting men and women who play an important role in helping the American Red Cross fulfill its humanitarian mission every day. This week, we’d like to feature Michelle Peterson, a dedicated volunteer who serves on the communications team in our San Diego Region. Here is a conversation we had with her around Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and the importance of giving back.

Why is your Asian or Pacific American heritage important to you?

It is important to know where we’ve been and the struggles our ancestors had before us. I think this helps shape who we are.

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

I was on a San Diego State University alumni panel with a Red Cross staff member who ended up recruiting me to volunteer with the communications team. Because of that networking opportunity, I’ve been able to work on an array of different projects and events.

What does it mean for you to give back?

I think giving back is important because it gives hope to those in need. By helping others when they are in need, it shows that they aren’t alone.

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

Don’t be afraid to get involved and follow your dreams! Do little things that will take you to what you want to do.

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

Reach out to current volunteers to learn their Red Cross story. There’s a lot of volunteer opportunities that fit a wide variety of interests. Find something that interests you or something that you’d like to learn more about.

What is your proudest life or Red Cross achievement?

Getting the 2017 Rookie of the Year for the communications team would be my proudest Red Cross achievement. So far, I’ve really enjoyed meeting and working with Red Cross staff and volunteers while fulfilling the Red Cross mission and sharing the Red Cross story.

Become a Volunteer

You can learn how to become a volunteer like Michelle by visiting

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