Loves Park Woman Fights Rare Heart Condition with Help from Illinois Red Cross

Four years ago, Brenda Hill was working hard at a job she absolutely loved. She worked in the billing department at Metro Medical Services, an ambulance company in Loves Park, IL, a neighboring town to Rockford. It’s a company, she says, that felt like family.

That same year, 2016, Brenda began volunteering at the Red Cross, even getting certified in CPR. She was happy and healthy. At 57 years old, she went to the gym three days a week, mowed her grass often, but by August of 2016, she could hardly get through her lawn without feeling short of breath. That’s when she started having health issues.

She was originally misdiagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and underwent six months of chemo. By January of 2017, she was diagnosed with a rare heart condition called Cardiac Amyloidosis, a condition where your body makes too much protein, attaching to vital organs. It stiffens the heart so it can’t pump. Only One out of 5,000 people are diagnosed with it.

Brenda says, “I remember saying to my doctor, ‘Well at least I don’t have cancer.’ And she said, ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but you probably wish you had’.”

One month later, would be a day she’ll never forget. Brenda says she woke up with horrible stomach pain and began throwing up blood. Immediately, she called her team at Metro. They came lights and siren to take her in the ambulance to the hospital. She arrived at the ER, and woke up three days later, intubated. She went into cardiac arrest, twice, and couldn’t walk.

The Red Cross was there to help save her life, as she received six units of blood.

“If I didn’t have blood, I would’ve died,” Brenda says. “I have a strong faith, but if you look at the big picture, I would’ve died.”

Today, Brenda gets chemo every two weeks, to keep the protein levels in check. She says that most people with Cardiac Amyloidosis often don’t make it more than 10 years. Some don’t make it past a year.

“It’s hard living with a terminal disease,” Brenda says. “I look at things differently. I always tried to be a decent human being. Now, I try to give back. Everything means so much more, time spent with my grandchildren, my kids, my friends.

“It (an illness like this) messes with your head, and you have to be really strong to not let it get you down and to try to maintain as much normalcy as you can,” Brenda says. “I wake up each day and thank God each day that I’m awake.”

Talking to her, you can tell her faith plays a major role in her outlook on life. She says her pastors and counselors have helped her through it. Her children and grandchildren are who she lives for.

While she can no longer volunteer on site, she’s stayed busy during the coronavirus pandemic, sewing masks for people and assisting the Red Cross, from home, in any way she can. This also includes administrative work for the American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois.

“From the moment I met Brenda, I felt the warmth and sincerity of her spirit,” says Leslie Luther, Executive Director of American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois. “She is a grateful and proud recipient of the Red Cross blood products. It was for this reason she wanted to give back to the Red Cross. I couldn’t ask for a more compassionate person willing to help wherever needed.”

Once the coronavirus pandemic slows, Brenda plans to continue speaking to medical schools about Cardiac Amyloidosis, to help educate future doctors on the disease. This week, she’ll attend the Brenda Hill Red Cross Blood Drive, in Rockford, on June 30th, and hopes to encourage those who are healthy to donate blood. It saved her life, and it could save others, too.

“There’s always someone that’s worse off than I am, that’s going through 10 times what I am,” Brenda says. “So, I try to be humble and grateful for what I have.”

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

Happy Birthday, Dr. Drew!

It’s hard to understand the work of the American Red Cross without learning where its system came from. The American Red Cross blood program of today is a direct result of Dr. Charles Drew’s groundbreaking work in developing large-scale collection and processing and storage of human blood and plasma products during World War II. Today is his birthday!

1947. Washington, DC. Dr. Charles R. Drew medical director of the first American Red Cross blood bank. Credit Scurlock/NMAH.

Dr. Drew was an African American physician and blood transfusion researcher in the early 20th century. He was a dedicated scientist and educator pioneering in blood collection and plasma processing. He laid the foundation for modern blood banking and revolutionized the medical profession.

In a recent interview with CBS This Morning, Dr. Drew’s daughter says her father felt called into medicine after his sister died in the 1918 Spanish Flu.

In 1938, Drew received a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at Columbia University and train at the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. There, he continued his exploration of blood-related matters with John Scudder. Drew developed a method for processing and preserving blood plasma, or blood without cells. Plasma lasts much longer than whole blood, making it possible to be stored or “banked” for longer periods of time. He discovered that the plasma could be dried and then reconstituted when needed. His research served as the basis of his doctorate thesis, “Banked Blood”.

In 1940, Drew received his doctorate degree, becoming the first African American to earn this degree from Columbia. He was also the first African American examiner for the American Board of Surgery.

September 1940. New York, NY. Dr. Charles R. Drew (left) is shown here with doctors, nurses and drivers from a mobile unit of the New York Presbyterian Hospital. The purpose of this mobile unit, the first of its kind, was to collect blood plasma under the “Plasma for Britain” program. The only other person identified in this photo is Dr. Darrell Shaw (second from right), of the Presbyterian Hospital.

During World War II, the American Red Cross called on Drew to head up a special medical effort known as “Blood for Britain.” As the first medical director of the Red Cross blood bank, he organized the collection and processing of blood plasma from several New York hospitals, and the shipments of these life-saving materials overseas to treat causalities in the war. According to one report, Drew helped collect roughly 14,500 pints of plasma.

The “blood mobiles” you see today were also a creation of Drew’s. His discoveries, and his work in organizing and administering blood banks, continue to save countless lives today.

Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, we’re seeing the experimental procedure that transfers blood plasma from a coronavirus survivor into the bloodstream of a patient still battling the disease is among the most promising treatments amid the pandemic. We can credit Dr. Drew for this, as well.

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

Georgina Adan, Patty Gonzalez & Maricela Wesby Honored as 2020 “Everyday Extraordinary” Blood Services Heroes

Maricela Wesby, Patty Gonzalez and Georgina Adan are members of the Northern Trust Latin Heritage Leadership Council and serve on its community service committee. Through the council, they coordinate blood drives at Northern Trust. In the last three years, they have organized 17 blood drives and collected close to 700 units of blood. Their dedication and determination have had an impact on many in our community.

From left to right: Maricela Wesby, Georgina Adan and Patty Gonzalez

Each of these women has witnessed their loved ones battling severe illnesses that require life-saving blood products. And one particular young woman has touched them all very deeply.

In January of 2015, Patty and Maricela’s 13-year-old niece AnaVictoria was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The women recall that AnaVictoria was always full of life, hope and kindness, and this diagnosis came as a surprise to AnaVictoria and her family. AnaVictoria received many blood products during the course of her treatment. While her transfusions helped her in her fight against leukemia, in 2017, AnaVictoria suddenly relapsed and passed away. “I felt like I wanted to do something to help, and blood donation was the ideal thing because she received so much blood throughout her treatment,” says Patty. Maricela remembers that because of the generosity of complete strangers who donated blood, the life of her niece was extended for two more years after the initial diagnosis. “The blood transfusions would give life to AnaVictoria,” recalls Maricela.

AnaVictoria’s beautiful memory propels Maricela, Patty and Georgina’s mission to collect blood. The women are determined to make a difference in the lives of people fighting cancer and other illnesses. Blood cannot be manufactured and can only be donated by generous community members, so the women want to help others understand the impact that donors have on patients and their families, “I don’t think people understand that they are extending someone’s life like in the case of my niece. I really believe she was with us longer because of all that blood she received. So, I share this with people and tell them, you are actually saving lives,” adds Patty.

After increasing the number of blood drives held at Northern Trust, what’s next?

In March of 2020, Northern Trust is moving to new offices on Wabash Avenue and the three women plan to expand the Latin Heritage Leadership Council’s blood drives to all of the building’s tenants. “I do feel that I’m helping people by doing this. So, it’s definitely a great cause,” explains Georgina. “And AnaVictoria’s memory, pushes us to increase our goals, do more drives, and educate our staff.”

For the first time in 18 years, coronavirus caused the cancellation of the Red Cross Heroes Breakfast, but stories of resilience and determination prevail. These “Everyday Extraordinary Heroes” live among us. Watch their stories every Tuesday & Thursday starting April 14 at 10 a.m. in social media.

You can support the American Red Cross during this Coronavirus outbreak at Redcross.org/ChicagoHero.

Honoring a Humanitarian, Who Taught Us So Much

Long Time Board Member and Philanthropist R. Scott Falk Honored at Community Blood Drive

The Kenilworth Club Assembly Hall is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Serving as Kenilworth’s community house since its construction in 1906, the powerful connection between this historic gathering place and the local community makes it the perfect place to honor another community connector — R. Scott Falk.  Today, an American Red Cross Memorial Blood drive honoring R. Scott Falk was held there in his honor.  Forty-two units of blood were collected and each unit can help save up to three lives.

Scott Falk at the Chicago Red Cross Heroes Breakfast

Scott was a visionary and leader, and he modeled a long-term legacy of dedication and commitment to the Red Cross. For the past 12 years, he was a guiding force as a member of the Chicago & Northern Illinois Board of Directors. Scott’s passion, insight, drive and dedication often accelerated the Chicago & Northern Illinois Region forward. And Scott never hesitated to roll up his sleeve to donate blood.

Scott’s wife Kimberly and her dear friend Marley Crane hosted the drive in Scott’s honor.  Marley and Scott shared the same birthday, so an October blood drive celebrating his birth was the perfect way to honor him. “The room is decorated with 55 red and white balloons to celebrate Scott and his birthday,” said Marley. “We hosted the drive to allow people in the community to honor the generosity of the Scott we all knew and loved.”

Scott’s wife, Kimberly was moved by the many personal connections from the community donating in support of Scott.  “As I look around the room, I see so many friends that were part of our life together.  Friends from my children’s preschool, connections from our time in California, people from the PTA, neighbors, parents from our children’s sports and Kirkland & Ellis colleagues. All giving in honor of Scott, who gave so generously of himself.” 

Kimberly Falk and Marley Crane

Laura Linger, who knew Scott from both the community and his association with the Red Cross said, “Scott was a leader, an example and an inspiration.  There are not many like him. Kim’s amazing leadership in following Scott’s passion, dedication and generosity inspires all of us.”

Laura Linger with Betsy Ahearne and Francisco Magana of the Red Cross

Celena Roldán, the Chief Executive Officer of the Chicago & Northern Illinois Red Cross, donated blood today in Scott’s honor and said,” Scott had great humility. In my three and half years at the Red Cross he taught me much, about leadership, vision and generosity. I am proud to be here and to donate and honor Scott and Kim today.”

CEO Celena Roldán with Kimberly Falk

Many donors from the community who understand the significance of blood donation were also at the drive.  Carrie Waterston donated for the first time in support of a college friend who recently suffered and amniotic embolism while giving birth and needed 90 units of blood. Carrie said it is her friend’s mission “to give back every one of those 90 units” and Carrie donated today to do her part.

Bridget Sanfilippo’s 28-year-old daughter has suffered from aplastic anemia since she was five years old.  Aplastic anemia develops when damage occurs to bone marrow, impacting the production of new blood cells. Bridget said, “during her life, my daughter has had hundreds of blood transfusions, and my goal is to give back as many of those as I can.”

Bridget Sanfillipo

The American Red Cross collects 40% of the nation’s blood supply and needs to collect 13,000 units a day for the more than 2,500 hospitals we service across the country.  Blood drives like the R. Scott Falk Memorial Drive happen each day and donors are needed.  View more photos from the drive here.

Make your appointment to donate blood at an upcoming drive by going to http://www.redcrossblood.org and give the gift of life in the legacy of Scott Falk.  #givelife

Written by  Joy Squier, Chief Communications & Marketing Officer, Chicago & Northern IL Red Cross

Raul Mora: Collecting & Delivering Blood to those in Need

Raul Mora is the manufacturing director in blood services. I meet Raul on the first floor of the American Red Cross headquarters in Chicago for our interview. He is sitting in front of his computer and greets me with a smile. Raul tells me that he has spent most of his career in blood banking, including 19 years with the Red Cross and enthusiastically says,  “…it means a lot to me that we are helping the community, [that] we are saving lives day in and day out.”

Whenever I meet Raul in the office, he often speaks to me in Spanish. He learned the language from his parents who were both from Mexico. He talks proudly about them and tells me a story about his dad when he first immigrated to the United States, “He lived in New York with one of my uncles, and someone stole his visa and his passport, so my dad joined the 82nd Airborne so that he could make right and get his papers in order. My dad was a paratrooper in the late 50s.”

Raul Mora

Raul is very proud of his Mexican roots and sees Hispanic Heritage Month as a celebration of the many contributions Latinos have made to the country, and adds that it is a celebration of all the Latino community has accomplished. He talks about the sacrifices that his parents made to raise him and his six siblings, and with certain melancholy in his voice he tells me about his father’s dreams and aspirations of one day returning to Mexico with the family to start a business. Even though this never became a reality for his dad, for Raul it is a reminder of how hard workers Latinos are.

As a Red Crosser, Raul understands the importance of helping those in need and building stronger communities. He realizes how crucial volunteers are to the humanitarian mission of the organization and explains, “…disasters don’t take a break. They are constantly happening, and the only way we can help people is through people.”

You can help by becoming a blood donor. Make an appointment today to donate blood by downloading the free Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).  

Written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Marketing & Communications Manager

Leukemia survivor pays it forward after receiving nearly 100 transfusions

Hear from Marie on how blood donations helped save her life

Marie Fuesel of Orland Park was leading her regular life as an insurance agent with her husband Jerry and two children when she noticed pain was getting in the way of doing everyday things. Several doctor visits later, she got the news that would change the path her life was on completely. It was October, 2012 when a blood test revealed Marie had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), an aggressive blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow.

She was immediately admitted to the University of Chicago and was told she’d be there at least 30 days.

“I thought, ‘but I have dishes in the sink at home!’,” Marie said when she realized she wouldn’t be going home that day. Instead, it was 30 days of isolation and her first round of chemotherapy which included a high dose induction to destory the leukemia cells. Marie says she lost all her hair within 5 days of starting the treatment.

Over the next few months, Marie endured fevers, infections and even more severe pain. Chemotherapy not only kills bad cells, but it takes the good ones along with it leaving patients vulnerable to other infections and illnesses. She was diagnosed with Clostridium difficile (C-diff), another life-threatening infection.

She also had 6 bone marrow biopsys over the course of treatment as well which is another highly painful procedure.

During the treatment, Marie often needed transfusions of blood and platelets to help replenish her own supply. Overall, she needed 98 units to help her get through chemo and ultimately beat her cancer.

In May of 2013, her last bone marrow biopsy showed no sign of leukemia cells. Marie says she may never be truly “cured,” she certainly is healed and in remission!

Through the four rounds of chemotherapy, many infections and continous pain, she stayed positive.

“When you’re diagnosed with cancer…you could easily go to the dark side. But it’s not going to make it go away…so just listen to your doctor, and…it can’t take away your happiness. It can make you pretty miserable, but if you just keep laughing and have a really good positive attitude know that someday when you’re better you’ll be able to turn around and help people.”

Marie is now focused on health, wellness and helping others with cancer get through their treatments. She is forever a blood donation advocate and active with the Andrew Weishar Foundation as a committee member, ambassador and volunteer helping families with children fighting cancer. She attributes her extensive committment to health and fitness to her gym, Southside Knockout, and how they put her on the path to becoming a Certified Holistic Nutritionist.

She didn’t let cancer take her happiness, and now she’s dedicated her life to spreading positivity even in the darkest of times. To all the people, mostly strangers, who donated the blood that was on the shelf when she needed it- Marie says: “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

To sign up to donate blood at an upcoming blood drive near you, visit www.redcrossblood.org to make an appointment.

Story written and video produced by communications manager Holly Baker

Chicago Red Cross board member and doctor’s own donated blood flows back to his patients

From the moment the blood leaves your arm, you can follow it’s journey toward being delivered to a patient awaiting the much-needed blood at a hospital. When you give blood at an American Red Cross blood drive, the Red Cross blood donor app makes it easy to follow your blood and know the location of the person who received it.

On June 27, 2019 a blood drive was hosted by the Chicago Red Cross board of directors and one of them, Dr. A. Kyle Mack, donated blood as he often does. Dr. Mack asked for a “blue tag” and made sure to designate his blood for the Sickle Cell Blood Donor Program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, a program he helped formulate in partnership with the Red Cross. Dr. Mack is a hematologist at the hospital specializing in the treatment of blood disorders such as hemophilia, leukemia, lymphoma and sickle-cell anemia.

Dr. A. Kyle Mack holding a bag of his donated blood and the “blue tag” that designates it as part of the Sickle Cell Blood Donor Program

According to the hospital, sickle cell disease is the most common genetic disorder in the United States, affecting approximately 70,000 African- Americans and patients of it rely on 15 to 25 blood transfusions a year for their health.

The best match for an African-American child with sickle cell disease usually comes from an African-American blood donor. This program was started to raise visibility of the disease and improve support for people with it who consistently need blood transfusions. To minimize complications, it is best for children with sickle cell disease to receive blood that closely matches their own.

Since donating on the 27th of June, Dr. Mack has monitored his own blood’s journey through the Red Cross app and saw that it had reached stage 4 and was being stored, ready for use.

At the hospital this week seeing a patient with sickle cell disease, Dr. Mack ordered blood for the patient to be transfused. Coincidentally, the patient had the same blood type as Dr. Mack- but he didn’t think much of it until he got a notification through the Red Cross blood donor app that the blood he donated on June 27th had made it to a patient in Chicago the very same day!

Due to privacy policies protecting patients, Dr. Mack cannot confirm the blood he used to transfuse his patient that day was his own but the timing could not be more perfect. And what he does know for sure is that due to designating his blood through the Sickle Cell Donor Program and affixing the blue tag on it, the final destination of his designated donation still made it to a sickle cell disease patient relying on it.

You can help patients in need by becoming a blood donor, too! Find an upcoming blood drive near you by going to www.redcrossblood.org.

Written by communications manager Holly Baker

Community celebrates Red Cross blood drive at Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet

The gilded lobby of Joliet’s 93-year-old Rialto Theatre usually plays host to concerts, like Three Dog Night, and musicals, like Rent.  But, on Thursday it welcomed the American Red Cross. Yvonne Olsen, 52, was among many Joliet residents who came to the six-hour blood drive to make a donation. “I feel really good after I do it,” said Olsen. “You never know when you’re going to need it.”

This is the third year the Rialto Theatre has hosted what has become one of the most important events for the American Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley.

Brian McDaniel is the Executive Director for the chapter which serves Joliet. He says the event is a way of letting the community know that the Red Cross is continuing its century of commitment to the region and beyond. “You know that you are going to be helping, whether it’s a cancer patient or whether it’s a trauma victim.”

Executive Director Brian McDaniel (left) with Red Cross of the Illinois River Valley board member Jay Bergman (right)

Donor Steven Alfaro, 59, said he reaped the benefits of the Red Cross as a six-year-old following a tonsillectomy, so he’s been donating blood every year for a decade. “I had just gotten my tonsils out and I guess I ripped out my stitches eating Cheerios,” laughed Alfaro. “So, I needed blood after the doctors had to go back in and fix things.”

Kathy Ford, 52, a Red Cross volunteer and cancer survivor was a first-time donor. “When you’ve faced your own mortality, it’s important to give back any way you can.”

Cancer survivor Kathy Ford gives a thumbs up during her Power Red donation.

This summer the American Red Cross is facing a critical blood shortage. Summers are typically a crucial time of year and shortages are common. But, this year blood products are being distributed faster than donations are coming in.

Robert Filotto serves on the board of directors for the Rialto Theatre and was a donor himself. “We really like to give back to our community and this is a great way to do it,” said Filotto. “The theater has gone through a rebirth and we love having events like this whenever we can.”

Executive Director McDaniel credited the theater, the community, the media and the American Red Cross for making this event such a success. This year’s blood drive collected 90 units of blood, well ahead of its 80-unit goal.

Written by Red Cross communications volunteer Diane Eastabrook

Long-time Red Cross Blood Donor Continues to Roll Up his Sleeve After Giving Record Amount

Math and helping others are among some of the things Larry McKee is enthusiastic about. The now retired math professor has been donating blood since he was a freshman at Bradley University in Peoria.

 “The Red Cross came in once a semester. So, I just kind of established going, teaming up with a couple of my friends from the choir. And we were just going to lay on the table and sing while we were donating,” recalls Larry.

After college, Larry moved to Peru and began donating blood every eight weeks at the nearby donations center. Since 1977, there has been only a gap of about four years in which Larry was unable to donate blood regularly due to having to travel long distance to his teaching job. However, he still made it a point of donating when he could, “I couldn’t get up there to donate blood, but I would in the Summer or if they happen to have a site somewhere else. I could sneak in, but it wasn’t every eight weeks,” adds Larry.

He became a donor in 1977 at just 19 years old and since then Larry has donated 200 units of blood which equals 25 gallons. Larry says that he gives blood because he wants to help others as he is aware that there is always a need for blood.

Larry has been donating blood since college

Through the many years of donating blood, Larry has built a strong bond with other donors; people he considers his extended family. For Larry going to the donation center has become an opportunity to spend time together, “we just sit around and catch up, visit and make sure that we’re there eight weeks later,” he explains.

Larry will continue to roll up his sleeve to donate blood as long as he is able to, “It’s just one thing I can do to help people that doesn’t cost anybody anything…maybe a couple of hours, but that’s no problem.”

To register to donate blood visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RedCross. You can also download the Red Cross Blood Donor App.

Written by Red Cross marketing & communications manager Isis Chaverri

New display honoring Dr. Charles Drew unveiled in Chicago Red Cross office lobby

On June 18, the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois gathered with special guests to celebrate the new display honoring Dr. Charles Drew.

The breakfast reception was attended by staff, volunteer, board members and local community partners including members of Omega Psi Phi, Dr. Drew’s college fraternity, to mark this momentous occasion.


Chicago & Northern Illinois CEO Celena Roldan along with board member and hematologist at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital Dr. A Kyle Mack, biomedical services employee Demond Ausley, and AmeriCorps volunteer Dr. Lawrence Cox pulled back the paper cover to reveal the new display.

Dr. Charles Drew was a prominent surgeon, doctor and educator. He was a pioneering African-American medical researcher and the first medical director of the American Red Cross blood bank. His discoveries in the storage and processing of blood for transfusions was groundbreaking and he has since become known as the “father of modern blood banking.”

The Dr. Drew initiative was spearheaded by several Red Cross employees and staff including Raul Mora, Demond Ausley and AmeriCorps member Dr. Lawrence Cox. Their enterprising ideas helped create the path on which we plan to continue honoring Dr. Drew for years to come.

 The Dr. Charles R. Drew Initiative launched in 2019 with an inaugural blood drive held in partnership with Omega Psi Phi, Dr. Drew’s fraternity, on June 8 at the Kroc Center. And, a series of blood drives will be held in partnership with the Chicago City Colleges in the upcoming year.

At the inaugural blood drive, 54 units of blood were collected including 36 units from first time donors. Now, this permanent wall installation will continue to showcase Dr. Drew’s accomplishments and work which we still are benefitting from today.

The display placard reads:

Dr. Charles R. Drew, a prominent African American, was a dedicated scientist and educator pioneering in blood collection and plasma processing. He laid the foundation for modern blood banking and revolutionized the medical profession. The American Red Cross blood program of today is a direct result of his groundbreaking work in developing large-scale collection, processing and storage of human blood and plasma products during World War II. Among his innovations as the first medical director of the Red Cross blood bank were mobile blood donation stations, later called “bloodmobiles.” Dr. Drew’s discoveries and his work in organizing and administering blood banks continue to save countless lives today.”

See more photos here.

You can help save lives by rolling up a sleeve and donating blood and encouraging others to do the same! Each blood donation can help save up to three lives. Sign up to make an appointment at an upcoming blood drive near you by visiting www.redcrossblood.org.