Inspired by Heartbreak: Savannah’s Story

Savannah Creighton’s daughter, Wheeler unexpectedly passed away at the age of five years old in October 2021, after having surgery for an eye ailment.

This was devastating news, and Savannah wanted Wheeler’s legacy to live on. Savannah says, Wheeler’s cartilage and tissue went to approximately a dozen different states to help others. In addition, through a corneal transplant, a young man in his 30s was able to regain his eyesight.

Savannah had donated blood once before, but decided she was going to start donating regularly, after seeing the positive impact her daughter’s life was making on others and knowing how donated blood can make a big difference to those who need it.

“I give blood to help others. Just the fact that you get to help people and save lives is the reason to give blood. You never know, it could be your child or you who needs it.”
-Savannah Creighton

Savannah has O negative blood, the most common blood type used for transfusions when the blood type is unknown. She uses the Red Cross Blood Donor App to make her appointments.

“I love the fact that you get to see where your blood goes in the app,” she said. “Just knowing you helped someone is really exciting and makes you feel good. I absolutely will continue donating blood.”

Thank you, Savannah for giving blood! Visit to make an appointment.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Volunteer Spotlight: Darlene Huntinghouse

“When I joined the Red Cross and saw how much good this organization does, I thought, ‘This makes sense’ and I am glad to be a part of it.”
-Darlene Huntinghouse

Home fires are not new to Darlene Huntinghouse. As a retired firefighter, she helped battle numerous fires in the Chicagoland area during her career. Now, she helps the people who have been affected by them, as a disaster volunteer for the American Red Cross in the South Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region.

“When we would have big fires there, the Red Cross canteen would come out. I was amazed by that and thought, ‘They are here for us?’ I thought, ‘When I retire, I’m going to look into helping out,’ because it just amazed me, and still does,” Darlene said.

Darlene joined the team as a volunteer in September 2022 and enjoys having the opportunity to help the people she meets.

“I’ve been on the other side of it, going to put out a fire,” she said. “Now, I see how devastating it is to people. They’ve lost everything, and I just see the need to offer people something.”

In addition to responding to disasters, Darlene recently helped organize volunteer recruitment events scheduled for April 5-6 in the Marion, Illinois area, in an effort to bring new volunteers on board. Please click the link to sign up for these events. She also has recruited several new volunteers from her personal network.

We are grateful for Darlene’s dedicated efforts as a Red Crosser! Visit to join Darlene on the volunteer team.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

How a blood bank brought an Illinois couple together 

Supplying 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply, the American Red Cross consistently emphasizes the importance of giving blood and its lifesaving abilities. It’s something an Oak Park couple who both work in the medical field and regularly donate blood, not only know to be true, but it’s also a part of their love story. 

“My wife, Katie, and I met at Loyola University Medical Center working in the blood bank,” said Dennis Arocena. “We started on the same day and went to the same new employee orientation. We even had sequential tech code numbers assigned from our lab’s information system. I can’t think of any other techs in our blood bank that have sequential tech codes so it’s pretty fun that the only ones to have them ended up getting married.” 

For both Dennis and Katie Arocena, their interest in working for a blood bank comes from wanting a career that allows them to help people every day. 

“To me, the blood bank is the lab department where one can most directly help patients,” Katie said. “Yes, it’s very stressful and it’s a lot of pressure because someone’s life is on the line, but I thrive in that environment. I really found what I could do to help people from the lab perspective.” 

Working in a hospital blood bank, the Arocenas coordinate receiving blood products from the Red Cross, manage their hospital’s available supply, and ensue the blood products go to matching patients in need of transfusion.

“The blood bank is regulated by the FDA, so we’re basically a pharmacy and blood is considered the drug, and we are the dispensers of this,” Dennis said. “We have a lot of cancer patients, sickle cell patients, and patients who have been transfused many times and therefore can develop many antibodies. Then we must coordinate with our local American Red Cross reference lab to order and get specialized blood to our facility to try and transfuse the patients.” 

Dennis continues to work in the blood bank at Loyola, while Katie is now the blood bank supervisor at another area hospital. Though they no longer work together, it’s still a common topic of conversation at home. 

And because they know the importance of blood, they make it a priority to donate together. Through the Red Cross, Katie has donated 30 whole blood units, while Dennis has donated 130 units of whole blood, platelets, and plasma. 

“We try to bring more awareness to the importance of giving blood,” Katie said. “It’s not just victims of car accidents who need blood. It’s a grandma who has cancer or someone who has a baby. There are a lot of different reasons why someone might need blood, and there is no other substitute.” 

One of their favorite parts of donating is tracking where their blood ends up on the Red Cross Donor app. Katie says her blood has ended up as far away as California, Texas and Florida. 

“Since my blood type is O positive and can be given to almost anybody, my blood can go a lot of places and being able to have that conclusion to your donating experience is really cool,” Katie said. “Your unit might be the unit that saves someone’s life.” 

Download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit or call 800-RED CROSS to make an appointment to give blood. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. Thank you for rolling up a sleeve! 

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Mara Thompson

Serving Others in Several Ways

Chadd Boland of Peoria is a Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Specialist for the Illinois Army National Guard, 444th Chemical Company. Chadd first gave blood in 2016 during Basic Combat Training. At the time, he admits he was not too excited about the idea, but a little convincing got him there.

Toward the end of the training, his company was offered the chance to donate blood in lieu of physical training that day. Chadd was hesitant about needles but says, the offer, which included snacks he’d not been able to enjoy for several months, was too good to pass up. “I’m quite sure my entire company donated after that,” he says.

Before Chadd graduated, his drill sergeants handed out thank you cards from hospitals that received the donated blood. He says, “It felt great to help. From then on, I decided to donate every chance I get.”

Chadd learned during his first donation he has O+ blood, which is given to patients more than any other blood type and considered the most needed blood type.

He understands why people might get nervous before donating blood, but says, it’s worth it, and a chance to do some good. Plus, he adds, you may end up being the person who needs blood someday.

“It’s definitely helpful. I got into an accident once and broke my leg. I can’t imagine how many bags of blood they needed for me. I definitely want to give back what I took, especially if my blood goes to someone who desperately needs it.”
-Chadd Boland

Chadd still regularly donates blood. He is a Power Red donor and says, “I always do Power Red because I like to donate a little more. I’m trying to help out however I can.” He has donated 13 units of blood so far, with no plans of stopping.

Thank you, Chadd for being a volunteer blood donor! Visit to make an appointment to donate blood at a location near you.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

CPR training gives a mother the confidence to act

Tresa Razaaq of Chicago is receiving a Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action from the American Red Cross of Illinois after jumping into action to help her four-year-old son who had begun choking at school. As scary as it was for her in that moment, it was something she says she felt confident to do as she had just come from a CPR training course that same day.  

The course was held on June 14th, 2022, and right afterwards Tresa headed to Mollison Elementary to pick up her kids from school. Tresa said she took the course wanting to get reacclimated on safety training after having another baby. As the president of the Parents Advisory Committee at the school, she also felt she had a responsibility to know CPR. She even talked with the principal that day about looking into hosting a training course at the school, in hopes that more parents and staff could get certified. 

As her kids were walking out of the school, she noticed a parent waving her down near her son who was already outside. Once she ran over, she noticed her son’s eyes bulging, face turning red, and his hands up to his mouth. It was clear that he was choking on the cupcake she saw him leaving the school with. 

“I looked at my son and told him, ‘Listen, don’t be scared, Mommy’s got you’,” Tresa said. “I turned him around and patted his back, the same number of times I had just learned in the class. A little bit came out and he started gasping for air. So, I used my fingers to dislodge more of the cupcake and open his airway. I turned him back around and started patting his back again then the rest came out and he was okay.” 

Tresa said she’s grateful for taking the training, and it goes to show how importance for everyone to have these skills, especially those who are around children often. 

“I was thinking about how glad I was that I had just taken the class, but at the same time, it was my son and I had never seen him like that,” said Tresa. “I couldn’t show how scared I was for his sake and for my other kids who were there watching.” 

She continued: “My mom worked in the medical field for more than 40 years and she was the one who encouraged me to take the class since I am around kids so much including my own. Now I am trying to get everyone in my household to be involved.”  

Red Cross training gives people the knowledge and skills to act in an emergency and save a life. A variety of online, blended (online and in-person skills session) and classroom courses are available at

If you or someone you know has used skills and knowledge learned in an American Red Cross Training Services course to help save or sustain the life of another individual, visit to nominate, recognize, or be inspired.  

Earning a Scholarship for Helping Save Lives: Allyson’s Story

Getting involved helped Allyson Gillette get some help for college.

Allyson was looking for volunteer opportunities and decided to host an American Red Cross blood drive in Chillicothe, Illinois last December. She earned a $1,000 scholarship as a result of her lifesaving efforts.

As part of the Red Cross Leaders Save Lives program, the senior at Illinois Valley Central helped collect 33 blood donations. Allyson was entered into a drawing for a scholarship and was chosen as a winner.

The continual need for blood donations inspired Allyson to host the blood drive.

“I would absolutely encourage any student to host a blood drive. This experience was very rewarding and there is truly no greater feeling than knowing you are saving lives.”
-Allyson Gillette

Allyson is set to graduate high school in May 2023. She plans to attend college and major in nursing.

“I was very excited to be informed that my blood drive was selected as one of the scholarship winners,” Allyson said. “I am very thankful to the American Red Cross for the opportunity to host a blood drive and be rewarded with the scholarship!”

The Leaders Save Lives program encourages community-minded high school and college students to host blood drives to help maintain the blood supply for patients in need of lifesaving transfusions.

Students can sign up to host blood drives and potentially qualify to earn a scholarship during seasonal timeframes throughout the year. Visit for more information.

Here is how the program works:

– Sign up to host a blood drive while school is out of session.
– Form a recruitment committee to help make your blood drive a success.
– Recruit your friends, family and the community to donate at your blood drive.
– Collect 25 pints or more at your blood drive and you will earn a gift card and be entered to win a scholarship!

Download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit or call 800-RED CROSS to make an appointment. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. Thank you for rolling up a sleeve!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Lives Saved in Dixon, IL

Lives Saved in Dixon, IL

“If it wasn’t for the smoke alarms, I wouldn’t be here today. I’m still trying to get over this experience. I’ve been through hurricanes and tornadoes — this is probably the worst.”

Fred and his wife Gina were asleep when they were awakened by the shrill sound of the smoke alarm. To their shock, they woke up to complete darkness due to the dark heavy smoke that had already permeated their apartment.

“We couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces. We knew we had to get out, but we couldn’t find our cats and we were trying to put on shoes and coats because it was cold. My wife made it out. I stayed behind looking for our pets and quickly became disoriented and overcome by the heavy smoke. The sound of the beeping smoke alarm and the firemen led me closer to the exit, thankfully.”

On October 13, 2021, the Dixon Fire Department through the Red Cross Sound the Alarm program, installed free smoke alarms in Fred and Gina’s apartment. Fred credits these working smoke alarms with saving his and his wife’s lives.

“During a home fire, it’s important that the occupants of the house get out in a quick manner.  With today’s modern construction techniques and modern furnishings of homes the time needed to get out safely is much shorter than years past so smoke alarms are far more important than ever before,” shared Ryan Buskohl, Chief, Dixon Fire Department.

Working smoke alarms saved Fred and Gina’s lives. Working smoke alarms can cut the risk of death in a home fire by 50 percent.

“I am thankful to the Red Cross. Not only did we have working smoke alarms because of their Sound the Alarm program, but they have been so supportive. Make sure you have working smoke alarms in your apartment or your house – anywhere you live, have smoke alarms in case of fire.”

To help prevent fire-related deaths and injuries, the Red Cross launched the Home Fire Campaign with community partners in 2014 to reduce fire-related deaths and injuries. With support from thousands of community partners, the Red Cross Sound the Alarm campaign has met its goal of installing 2.5 million free smoke alarms and making 1 million households safer across the country. So far, the Home Fire Campaign is credited with saving more than 1,583 lives in the U.S. – 45 of those lives right in Illinois. Because home fires remain a daily threat and the campaign has made a lifesaving difference, the Red Cross will be continuing the program with community partners as part of its standard services across the country.

Visit to learn more.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Donated Blood Created a Family Legacy

Donated Blood Created a Family Legacy

“Six children, 13 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, 2 great-great-grandchildren—that’s the legacy we would have missed out on had my mother not received blood when I was born.”

It was 1964 and Penny’s mother was facing a difficult childbirth and hemorrhaging which required 9 units of blood. Penny’s father was charged with replacing those units of blood his wife received so that the hospital had inventory for the next patient in need. “My father instantly rallied 27 family and friends to come forth and donate blood – ever since that day, my family became a family of blood donors.”

Penny grew up hearing the story of her birth and how she could have been deprived of growing up without her mother and subsequent younger brothers had donors not come forth. “My entire life, I’ve heard how donated blood saved my mother’s life. As soon as I was old enough, I started donating blood and haven’t stopped since. Donating blood is such an easy way to help people – so much easier than running a marathon and you’re saving and impacting lives and legacies!”

In the US, approximately 700 women die each year as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“When I see my mother surrounded by her children and 38 offspring, I can’t help but get emotional. My mother’s story could have easily not turned out the way it did, and we would have missed out on so much love and so many memories. I would not have the family I grew up with, she would have never had the chance to teach me how to cook and bake, play jacks and Yahtzee, or patch a bicycle tire because she would have died at the age of 24.”

Penny’s mother pictured with her great-great-grandson.

Penny, a Power Red blood donor who enjoys long walks with her husky, Bella, has an extensive career in building and testing clinical trial databases, “In my job, I work with medical treatment results and the impact those results have on patients. Blood donation not only impacts the person in need but the entire trajectory of a family’s story. I remain committed to honoring my mother by being a blood donor and telling my story as many times as needed to motivate others to save lives by donating blood.”

Every day, the Red Cross must collect more than 13,000 blood donations to help support accident victims, surgery patients, organ transplant patients, those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease, and emergency obstetric care. There is no substitute for donated blood products.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Lifesaving Lifeguards

“If they wouldn’t have done what they did and known how to do it, they would have been planning my funeral and I would have been dead and buried a year ago.”
-Craig Kinzer

Friday, Jan. 28, 2022 is a day Craig Kinzer will never forget. It is the day his life could have ended, had it not been for the quick actions of four lifeguards.

Craig was finishing up a drill as part of a lifeguarding course at a YMCA in Davenport, Iowa when he lost consciousness while in the swimming pool. Craig would later learn that he had suffered sudden cardiac death.

That’s when the lifeguards did exactly what they are trained to do.

Katie McGrane immediately jumped in the water and pulled Craig out of the pool, then checked for a pulse. CPR was administered to Craig on the pool deck.

As a team, the four lifeguards worked to restore Craig’s pulse. They spent approximately 30 minutes performing CPR, then paramedics took over and ultimately, Craig was stabilized and then released from the hospital after just five days.

Katie credits her lifeguard training with preparing her to be ready to act at that moment, when help was needed the most.

“It’s not if, it’s when, and if you aren’t trained, you won’t be ready when it happens. I think everybody should be trained to some level in CPR. If you can, become a lifeguard, because you do truly save lives.”
-Katie McGrane

Craig credits the lifeguards with doing just that, saving his life. He is grateful for the experiences he’s had this past year, and what he is looking forward to in the future.

“My daughter got married in September, so, I got to walk her down the aisle. I’m expecting my first grandchild in June, so if it weren’t for those four and the paramedics, I wouldn’t be around to enjoy that stuff,” said Craig.

Craig recently had the opportunity to present a Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action to each of the lifeguards on behalf of the American Red Cross, during a ceremony in their honor at the YMCA where they helped save his life.

“I got a little choked up, because he is a human being. To be able to provide a second lease on life for that human being is a big deal for me,” said Katie. “When I get to see him and talk to him and hear his daughter is expecting and see the wedding photos with him and his daughter, that is the greatest award and that’s very fulfilling.”

Thank you to all four lifeguards for their lifesaving actions! Visit to get the skills and knowledge to help save someone’s life.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Finding Fulfillment in Volunteering: John’s Story

“It’s such a great organization. It has been the most fulfilling time of my life. I really encourage anyone – if you’re looking for something to do, please check out the Red Cross. You won’t be sorry.”
-John Ramsey

John Ramsey of Decatur started volunteering for the South Central Illinois chapter of the American Red Cross in 2016. One of his favorite roles is installing smoke alarms with fellow Red Cross volunteers, as part of the Sound the Alarm program.

“A lot of people don’t know all the things Red Cross does, and installing smoke alarms is a big one,” he says.

In addition to installing smoke alarms, John serves on the disaster team and responds to home fires, helping people with their immediate needs. Seeing both sides of this process has been a powerful experience for him.

“You can’t understand the fulfillment it gives you, the gratification to help somebody else and know that you may help them avoid a terrible situation,” John says. “We invite you to come help us. It’s great fun and camaraderie with people. I have developed really good friendships from it, and it’s a great experience.”

John’s dedicated efforts have helped produce significant outcomes. Watch this video to find out how he helped save two lives, by installing smoke alarms with another volunteer at a home in Decatur.

Thank you, John for volunteering your time and talents! Visit to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen