A Second Chance at Life: Erin’s Story

“You just never know when it’s going to make a difference in someone’s life. Don’t hesitate to give blood. It’s such a worthwhile thing to do, and it can be life-saving – it saved my daughter’s life. People need blood.”
-Stephanie Brown

Stephanie Brown knew something wasn’t right. Her newborn daughter, Erin, was listless and rarely opening her eyes. Stephanie asked her pediatrician to run a blood test.

This particular blood test was familiar to Stephanie. She had worked as a lab tech at Duke University Medical Center’s neonatal unit, and the outcome often times was not a good one, in these types of scenarios.

The blood test confirmed what Stephanie had feared. Erin’s bilirubin level was 22, which is considered extremely high and dangerous. It was higher than any level Stephanie had seen, during her professional experience. Brain damage for Erin was a possibility at that moment; the condition also carried potentially fatal consequences.

Neither Stephanie nor her husband had a matching blood type. That’s when donated blood changed the narrative.

“Nobody’s blood matched hers, so we had to get emergency blood, said Stephanie. “Thank God someone had donated some A negative blood, and that’s when she got the total transfusion at four days old. It was a lot to go through.”

Erin stayed five days in the hospital after the blood transfusion, but the blood products used in that transfusion were instrumental in turning things around for her.

“It was truly an emergency. If we had waited any longer, who knows? We had a great outcome, but it didn’t have to go that way. If that blood wasn’t available, it wouldn’t have gone that way,” said Stephanie.

Now, Erin is a successful television news broadcaster, healthy and thankful for the people who chose to give the blood that helped save her life.

“Everyone deserves a chance to live. Blood donation can give someone that second chance at life, whether that’s a sick baby, or a cancer patient or someone who got into an accident,” she said. “We deserve a chance to live our lives and be the people we’re supposed to be.”

Erin understands some people are hesitant to give blood, but offers her real-life example of why it is so important to do so.

“A number for some people isn’t enough for them to take that step to donate blood, but there are people and families behind those numbers. In my situation, there was a really traumatized and heartbroken mom. I wouldn’t want any parent to go through that, and I definitely wouldn’t want any parent to experience what could have been my outcome, if that blood were not available.”
-Erin Brown

Visit redcrossblood.org to find a blood donation appointment near you. Thank you for giving the gift of blood!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

The Jones Family: Recovery After a Home Fire

The Jones Family: Recovery After a Home Fire

The Jones Family went to bed on a Thursday night following their normal routine. Lights off, devices put away, everyone in their respective rooms. At about 1 AM, a beeping sound woke Paula and she noticed her room was in complete darkness. When she exited her room she smelled smoke, noticed that the house was completely dark and without power, and there was a strange crackling coming from the ceiling.

When Paula confirmed that no one was in the kitchen burning popcorn in the microwave, she made her way outside to try and pinpoint where the noise and smell was coming from. Once outside she was convinced someone’s house was on fire and this is when she noticed smoke coming from the roof of her own house. Paula instantly went into action and ran back in the house to mobilize everyone out of bed and out of the house.

“I usually watch my tablet in bed and wear headphones so as to not interrupt my husband’s sleep since he wakes up very early to go to work. On that night, I don’t know why I put my device away and I never put my headphones on which now—what a blessing I didn’t because the strange crackling and beeping woke me up and I was able to get everyone safely out of the house,” remembers Paula.

The strange crackling turned out to be an electrical fire that started in the attic of her home. Paula, her husband, mother, and three children quickly exited the home, and all Paula could think was, “There are oxygen tanks in my house!” Her mother, who suffers from COPD, needs oxygen constantly and her oxygen machine was in fact the cause of the beeping that woke up Paula. “My mother’s machine has a piercing and constant beeping when its power source is interrupted. On this night, that was our smoke alarm. We all watch movies and TV shows and we see on the news how others are affected by home fires and you never expect it to happen to you. When it does, it’s surreal and just incredible how one reacts. I was fixated on collecting my mother’s oxygen to prevent a bigger disaster meanwhile, I was running around in my nightgown and no shoes.”

The hours following her house fire are a blur. While resting at her aunt’s house, her husband off to work, Paula’s sister suggested she contact the Red Cross for help. Within hours she was meeting a Red Cross caseworker at her house, and this is when they noticed that her house was once again on fire. This second fire finished destroying the home and all that was in it.

“I was so grateful to have the Red Cross caseworker there. She stayed the entire time and walked me through next steps. This is what I needed because my family and I were at a complete loss. We had no idea where to start. How does one begin to recover from a house fire?”

“When you hear that the Red Cross shows up to provide comfort, care, and immediate needs—that’s exactly what happens. The Red Cross helped get my mother’s and son’s prescriptions refilled. They gave me a voucher to replace my glasses, through funds provided by the Red Cross we found a hotel that has been incredibly kind and generous and who has made us feel at home and even welcomed our beloved dog,” continued Paula.

“Not only did the Red Cross help us materially and with a recovery plan, but they also made sure we were well health-wise — mentally and spiritually. That above all is what we will never forget and for which I am eternally grateful. The holidays are coming up and we have a tight knit family and groups of friends, and we will celebrate and give thanks together. As for Christmas, we don’t want gifts. We have asked our family and friends to instead, donate to the American Red Cross. There will be other families in the same situation we found ourselves in and we want to make sure we pay it forward,” stated Paula.

Paula and her family are getting ready to move into a rental property while they sort out rebuilding their home. In the meantime, Paula works remotely from her hotel room, and together, they make plans for this next phase of their family’s story.

The American Red Cross responds to more than 60,000 disasters a year and most are home fires.

As part of the Home Fire Campaign, the Red Cross is calling on everyone to take two simple steps that can save lives: practice fire drills at home and check existing smoke alarms. Increase your chances of surviving a fire:

  • Create a home fire escape plan that includes at least two ways to escape each room and a meeting spot to reunite after escaping.
  • Practice the plan until everyone can get out in less than two minutes.
  • If someone doesn’t have smoke alarms, install them. At a minimum, put one on every level of the home, inside bedrooms and outside sleeping areas. Local building codes vary and there may be additional requirements where someone lives.
  • If someone does have alarms, test them today. If they don’t work, replace them.

 Learn more about Home Fire Preparedness and access free fire safety resources.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

Theresa Reed: From Home Fire Survivor to Compassionate Volunteer with the Red Cross

Theresa Reed: From Home Fire Survivor to Compassionate Volunteer with the Red Cross

It’s one of the calls one wishes never to receive, but when it does, the immediate thought is—where is my family and are they okay? For retired Theresa Reed, now Red Cross volunteer, these were the thoughts that raced through her head when she got the call that her house was on fire.

“For years, my family and I practiced getting out of the house. I can’t stress enough how important it is to talk to your children, show them what they need to do in case of emergency. Show them the ways out of the house and how to get out and get out fast! I am so proud of my son who was home at the time of the fire. He remembered our home fire drills and jumped into action and made sure he got himself safely out of the house,” states Theresa.

As Theresa watched the house she had made a home with her loved ones go up in flames due to an electrical fire, along with all the treasures she had collected over the years from her international travels, Theresa remembers being at a complete loss as to what to do next. What stands out from that day, even to this day is the Red Cross who showed up to comfort, provide access for a safe place to stay, and helped Theresa outline a recovery plan. “I had no idea what to do or who to call for help. I will never forget the Red Cross volunteers in their red vests who told me I was going to be okay and that they were there to make sure I knew where to go and what to do next. I vowed that one day, once I was back on my feet, I would pay it forward and become a Red Cross volunteer. Despite seeing my house going up in flames, I felt incredibly blessed to be hugging my son and that I had the incredible support of the Red Cross.”

Theresa’s son who was home at the time of the fire is currently in medical school after many years as a successful pharmacist.

Walk into the Red Cross of Greater Chicago headquarters and Theresa will be meet you with a warm smile and the utmost desire to make sure you are well taken care of. “I see and welcome people who walk through the doors of the Red Cross that have just gone through what I went through, and I know what they’re feeling. I know the suffocating feeling to see everything you own gone and the desolate feeling of not having a home to go to. I tell people, you’re okay. You’re going to be okay. The Red Cross is going to help you with your recovery plan. I am so proud to be part of the organization that stands behind their mission. The Red Cross was a great big light during a part of my life that went completely dark in an instant. If I can be a little bit of a glimmer and reassure anyone that is going through what I experienced, I will proudly do so until I can’t,” explained Theresa.

Theresa, thank you for your dedication and commitment to the Red Cross. We are so proud to count on you to help carry out the Red Cross mission.

Most of us don’t realize we have just two minutes to escape a home fire — which is the nation’s most frequent disaster. That’s why the American Red Cross is preparing families to act quickly through our Home Fire Campaign. Since launching the campaign in 2014, we’ve helped save 1,414 lives across the country by installing free smoke alarms and helping families create escape plans.

Visit redcross.org/fire for more information, including an escape plan to practice with your family. You can also download our free Emergency app and free Red Cross First Aid app for instant access on how to control bleeding, help someone who is choking and other scenarios. Search “American Red Cross” in app stores.

Red Cross Volunteer Helen Jackson Welcomes Everyone at Chicago Office Front Desk

<strong>Red Cross Volunteer Helen Jackson Welcomes Everyone at Chicago Office Front Desk</strong>

Helen Jackson is a Facility Service Volunteer at the Illinois Red Cross’s Headquarter office in Chicago. If you’ve stopped by, there’s a good chance you’ve been greeted by Helen at the front desk – welcoming visitors, answering the phones, and serving everyone who comes in the doors during business hours. She gets to see a little bit of everything – and all kinds of people.

Visitors come for many reasons, and that reflects so much of what the Red Cross does: they come to donate blood, to take CPR and First Aid classes, to request smoke detector installations in their homes, and to apply for recovery assistance if they’ve recently experienced a home fire or other natural disaster. Helen refers volunteer inquiries to Volunteer Services, and she recommends local charities that accept household donations if the Red Cross cannot take them. There’s also the business side that Helen facilitates: sorting the mail, responding to vendors, fielding calls from around the state, and directing blood pick-ups to Biomedical Services in the back of the building.

Every day’s different, and Helen likes it that way: “I’m their first point of entry. I talk to everyone and try to help them. I see visitors who are happy, angry, distraught if they’ve just been through a disaster. And despite this, they are friendly because the Red Cross can offer help. That’s why this work is meaningful to me.” Helen refers callers to other social services and charities beyond what the Red Cross can provide. She connects people to what they need, and where they need to go.

Helen started at the Red Cross in 2019, about a year before COVID-19 closed down the office. She was recommended to the Red Cross by Easterseals, an organization that places seniors and those with disabilities in volunteer positions. “I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life and I didn’t know about the Red Cross before I came here. It makes you want to volunteer at the Red Cross when you see all that they do.”

When the office re-opened in July 2021, Helen was back at the front desk, greeting all who enter. The post-COVID world is different, not as many people are in the office each day as before. But the Red Cross mission is just as important. “Anyone who volunteers for the Red Cross will be helping, and possibly saving a life.”

We are grateful for all you do, Helen!

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

Volunteer Spotlight: Terrence Cook

“I like to get out and mingle with the people and find out exactly what their needs are, try to resolve it and help them out as much as I can.”
-Terrence Cook

Terrence Cook of Mount Vernon, Illinois has been an American Red Cross volunteer for approximately 10 years. During his time volunteering, Terrence has responded to home fires, along with deploying to hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other disasters.

After a home fire, Terrence arrives on scene and helps individuals with providing comfort kits, financial assistance to help with lodging and food, assistance with referrals for replacing medications, information about case work and additional assistance.

“You always run into different people, different families and situations,” he says. “Our main goal is to help them with their immediate needs.”

Terrence has deployed to numerous parts of the country for large-scale disasters, including California, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. He spent time helping before and after a hurricane in Mississippi in 2017, where he worked as a supervisor during the Red Cross disaster response, there.

“It is good to work with people after disasters. I was surprised at how many people were willing to help, even though they were thinking about, ‘Is my home alright?'”

Terrence says, numerous people thanked him for being there. He recalls a story of two children sharing their concerns about the impending storm. They asked Terrence, “Are we going to have a home to go home to?” Terrence tried to comfort them and the boys thanked him for listening.

For Terrence, his favorite parts of volunteering include working with his fellow volunteers and helping people. He likes the camaraderie and says he truly enjoys being able to talk with the people he meets as part of his duties.

“My life goal is to keep helping people like that,” he says.

Here is a short video that highlights a recent Red Cross home fire response in the South Central Illinois chapter. Terrence is one of our volunteers who responded to help.

Thank you, Terrence! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to join the team as a disaster volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

A Life Committed to Service: Susan Hill, Lt. (j.g.)

A Life Committed to Service: Susan Hill, Lt. (j.g.)

When we think military, we oftentimes think of the 5 branches of the military: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Did you know the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, or USPHS Commissioned Corps, was established in 1798 and is one of the nation’s uniformed services — a branch committed to the service of health? The USPHS Commissioned Corps works on the front lines of public health – their medical, health and engineering professionals fight disease, conduct research, and care for patients in underserved communities across the country and throughout the world. Officers in the USPHS Commissioned Corps advance our nation’s public health, serving in agencies across the government, as engineers, physicians, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, scientists, and other positions.

The Red Cross of Illinois is proud to count a member of the USPHS Commissioned Corps, Susan Hill, amongst our volunteer ranks and this Veterans Day, we say thank you for your service and dedication to keeping our country and its people safe.

Susan, a retired environmental engineer never envisioned herself a member of the military, but a visit to her school counselor led her down a path that afforded her rewarding experiences and adventures.

“I was looking for a summer internship. Never did I imagine that I would find myself a commissioned officer with the USPHS Commissioned Corps. That first internship led to another which led to four years of service. During that time, I traveled the country, made lifelong friends and connections all the while safeguarding the health and safety of all who live in the United States,” shared Susan.

Susan was an integral member of the USPHS Commissioned Corps who to this day continues their work constructing water systems, evaluating medical devices, designing “healthy buildings,” and strengthening public health infrastructure.

Fast forward to today, you can find Susan volunteering with the Red Cross and as a  Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children (CASA) in DuPage County. “When I was semi-retired, I knew I wanted to keep serving. My husband was already a volunteer with the Red Cross, so I started my training and four years later, I have responded to local home fires, volunteered at blood drives, and served as a caseworker assisting those impacted by disaster on their journey to recovery. Volunteering is so rewarding! It is such a wonderful feeling to be able to help others,” stated Susan.

Susan credits her military training and education for preparing her for a life of service and leadership. Mentorship is also top of the list, “Throughout my career, I was very fortunate to have had mentors who helped propel me along a career path that wasn’t necessarily one saturated by women. It was this experience that inspired me to also be a mentor. We all have so much to give, and our experience can build on someone else’s resulting in doing great things for the good of many. My connection to the Red Cross through its mission of alleviating human suffering is what inspires me to keep serving,” said Susan.

Retired as Lieutenant JG from the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, Susan earned a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering and retired as a Senior Principal in an environmental engineering consulting firm. Susan is a devoted mother of four, grandmother to four adorable grandbabies, and a CASA advocate to three children.

“I encourage everyone, especially retirees who have the time, to volunteer. Volunteering is not only rewarding, but the feeling you get from helping others is unlike anything you’ll ever do.”

Thank you, Lieutenant Hill, for your continued service and dedication to helping advance the mission of the American Red Cross.

To all military veteran volunteers, thank you for being dedicated Red Crossers! We salute all who have served and honor the tremendous sacrifices made by members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families to preserve our freedom.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Volunteer Spotlight: Ramon ‘Ray’ Castro

“I just wanted to make a difference in my community.”

This is what motivated Ramon ‘Ray’ Castro to become a volunteer with the Northwest Illinois chapter of the American Red Cross Illinois region.

Since becoming a Red Crosser 11 years ago, Ray, a U.S. Navy Veteran and retired art teacher, has deployed four times. His first deployment was to North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew, which coincidentally he told us is the name of one of his sons. Ray drove an emergency response vehicle from Chicago to North Carolina to provide much needed relief to those impacted.

He lives in Freeport, Illinois with his wife who also volunteered with the Red Cross for 12 years. Ray is an accomplished artist who created a seven-foot bronze sculpture of Abraham Lincoln (pictured here), which is located at Blackhawk Battlefield Park in Stephenson County, Illinois.

When asked why others should consider volunteering with the American Red Cross, he quickly replied, “because the Red Cross makes everything better.”

Thank you Ray for your service and for making a difference in the lives of those in need! Visit redcross.org/volunteer to sign up as a Red Cross volunteer.

Written by Communications Volunteer Isis Chaverri

Jill Wrobel: A story of strength, determination, and gratitude

<strong>Jill Wrobel: A story of strength, determination, and gratitude</strong>

Inspired is one of the many emotions one walks away with after speaking with Jill Wrobel. An exceptional professional, devoted wife and daughter, and expectant mother, Jill received a diagnosis that shook her world—but not her strength and determination to not give up.

In 2011, at a young age of 30 and pregnant with her first child, Jill was diagnosed with choroidal melanoma, or cancer of the eye. While facing the decision to lose her eye and protecting her unborn baby’s well-being, Jill remained focused on living and treatment. Her love of research, data and statistics influenced her decision to have her eye removed and she delivered a healthy baby boy via caesarean section.

Fast forward to 2012, relishing in the love of her family and exciting work projects, Jill’s cancer returned, and she was advised to get her affairs in order. Instead, Jill forged ahead with immunotherapy over the next several years.  In 2018, this same therapy sent her into a health crisis that landed her in the ICU, in a coma, necessitating over 20 units of blood. It’s the donated blood she received that Jill credits to being alive.

“Someone, somewhere, donated their blood and I was blessed to be on the receiving end. So deeply grateful and humbled for this easy action that for me has had a tremendous impact. This generous and simple act gave me a chance at life. It has given me a chance to see my children grow when I had been told I had a 50/50 chance of living,” states Jill.

It’s now 2022 and Jill is living life to the fullest, paying it forward with numerous volunteer projects, and urging everyone to be a blood donor. “I hope, if you’re eligible and able, that you will consider being a regular blood donor. While you might not know how or who your blood reaches, know that your blood will arrive somewhere with someone who desperately needs it to live,” states Jill.

Photo Source: Chicago Tribune

Jill undergoes ongoing screenings every three months and to this day has no evidence of cancer. While doctors can’t describe how or why the cancer is all gone, Jill credits her faith, a huge dose of luck, and a blood donors’ generosity for living to tell her tale and inspiring us all to be blood donors.

In the U.S., 62% of the population is eligible to give blood but only 3% do. Are you ready to give the gift of life? Visit redcrossblood.org to find a blood donation appointment opening near you.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

Giving Blood: David’s Story

“We have a shared humanity, and some other person in a desperate situation is going to need an anonymous blood donor to make it possible for them to regain their health. If it’s a very small thing you can do that can have an enormous effect on someone else’s life, it’s incumbent on you to do so.”
-David Singer

March 2019 was first time David Singer gave blood. It was not his last.

Since then, David has donated more than two gallons of blood, and is now a Power Red donor.

“I was shocked at how non-invasive and quick it was,” said David. “I realized if that’s all it is, and if this is a thing people really need, then why don’t I do it as much as is reasonably possible for me to do it? I found it to be a very minor inconvenience, for me to go spend a small amount of time doing something that can have such a big impact on someone else.”

David urges others to do the same, as there is a constant need for blood products – every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.

“The need is there. Every one of us believes that should we end up in the hospital, there would be blood available for us if we need it. Those are not reserves we have a limitless supply of. We all need to pitch in and do this.”

As for the time it takes to give blood? David says he barely notices he is there, before his appointment is done and he is on his way.

“It isn’t painful, it doesn’t take a long time. You go in, you fill out a few forms, you lie down and are on your phone for a few minutes and it’s over,” David said. “Everybody should get in the habit of spending 20 minutes every six weeks doing something that takes less time than shopping for groceries, and that has a big result.”

You are needed. To join David as a blood donor, visit redcrossblood.org and set up an appointment at a location near you. Thank you to David and all blood donors!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Team Red Cross Completes the 2022 Chicago Marathon

Team Red Cross Completes the 2022 Chicago Marathon

Team Red Cross runners participated in the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 9, 2022 and raised funds for the American Red Cross of Illinois. This year saw a record number of individuals signing up to run for the Illinois region, with 160 people on Team Red Cross. Athletes of all ages and backgrounds rallied on a chilly and rainy Sunday and were motivated to run not only to help raise disaster relief funds, but also for deeply personal reasons.

Kate Coleman ran to honor her late mother, who would have turned 70 this year. Coleman stated that her mother believed in the causes of the Red Cross and taught her that moving “forward, at whatever pace, is progress, and that, no matter the hurdle, it is possible to persevere.”

Janette Rojas joined Team Red Cross to honor the life of the late AnaVictoria Segoviano, a teenager who fought against leukemia and benefited greatly from blood donations. Segoviano’s father explained that he “saw how directly [blood transfusions] impacted [his] daughter’s life on a day-to-day basis” and made her struggle a little easier.

For Izzy Ballet, running for the Red Cross came as a result of living in Tokyo and witnessing the aid brought by “organizations like the Red Cross” to those suffering in the aftermath of the Tohoku tsunami and earthquake in 2011. The American Red Cross raised over $300 million for recovery efforts and the Japanese Red Cross deployed over 150,00 volunteers to help those affected by the disaster. 

The Chicago Marathon is one of six major marathons in the United States and the Red Cross has participated in it for over 20 years. Each year, dedicated runners endure a 26.2 mile course through downtown Chicago with the purpose of raising vital funds in support of the American Red Cross mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

Funds raised by the runners will assist people locally and around the country when emergencies strike. Whether it’s providing life saving blood, life saving training, aid during and after a natural disaster, or support for military members, the Red Cross is there.

The Red Cross would like to thank all of the runners who participated in the marathon, as well as everyone who supported us this year in this amazing and fun event. 

Check back next year if you are interested in running with a purpose and supporting the impactful and far-reaching mission of the Red Cross! 

Written by Communications Volunteer Vicky Arias