Blood Donor Wins Contest & Shares Story About Giving Back

Shannon Symonds has donated blood throughout the years for a decade, but recently she and her husband who is O negative, one of the most transfused blood types, have been making the conscious effort to donate regularly. Shannon says a blood drive held in honor of a teacher’s son years ago at a local high school inspired her to begin donating.

Over the summer, while donating at the Northwoods Mall in Peoria, Illinois she was automatically entered in the Red Cross Gas for a Year Giveaway for $5,000 and was named the winner of the contest.

Shannon says she was quite surprised when she received the phone call and was unaware of the contest. Shannon adds it’s all about the patients and helping them when it comes to donating blood.

“It’s a nice reward and I will continue to give,” she says.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please visit redcrossblood.org schedule an appointment to donate at a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern Brianna Orto

Blood Drive in Honor of River Helmuth

River Helmuth was born with Down syndrome and a congenital heart defect. She was born at full-term and shortly after her family found out about her condition.

When River was two and a half months old, she developed a cold and spent 73 days in the hospital where she underwent open heart surgery and multiple blood transfusions. About six months later, River returned for another heart surgery.

Today, River is doing amazing and started kindergarten this year. Her mother Stephanie says she may need another surgery in the future.

Now her family is hosting a blood drive in honor of River. The family realizes the importance of blood donations because of River and other members in their family that have received blood transfusions, including River’s grandfather who received blood after a traumatic car accident years ago.

“Our hope for the blood drive is continue to raise awareness for the need, that’s always there, it’s not just today or tomorrow,” Stephanie adds.

River’s blood drive will be held on Saturday, September 18 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Sullivan American Legion, 8 E. Strain Street in Sullivan, Illinois.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please visit redcrossblood.org schedule an appointment to donate at a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern Brianna Orto

Illinois Volunteers Deploy Coast to Coast and at Home

The American Red Cross of Illinois is assisting in disaster response operations across the country- from the devastating flooding in Tennessee to the massive wildfires out west.

These disasters have changed people’s lives forever and our thoughts are with everyone as we work around the clock to help bring comfort and support to those affected.

YOU CAN HELP PEOPLE affected by floods and countless other crises by making a gift to Red Cross Disaster Relief. Your gift is a commitment to helping people in need, and every single donation matters. Your gift enables the Red Cross to prepare for, respond to and help people recover from disasters big and small. Visit redcross.org, call 800-RED-CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

GIBSON CITY FLOODING

Last week, severe rain and flooding threatened the community of Gibson City, IL. Volunteers from the Illinois Region immediately sprang into action to set up a shelter for people displaced from their homes and to provide individualized assistance through casework volunteers. Volunteers also canvassed neighborhoods in the emergency response vehicle (ERV) distributing cleanup supplies to families.

A multi-agency resource center (MARC) was held on Saturday to provide an easily accessible central location for people to find more resources to help them through all the devastation. More than 24 Red Cross workers were activated to respond to the flooding in Gibson City, and volunteers will continue working with the affected people as they navigate the recovery process.

TENNESSEE FLOODING

The American Red Cross is working around the clock, alongside emergency officials and community groups, to help those in need after Saturday’s flash flooding in Tennessee. Red Cross disaster responders are focused on making sure people have a safe place to stay, food to eat, critical relief supplies, emotional support and comfort during this challenging time.

Susan Walker is an Illinois volunteer from Burr Ridge who is currently deployed to Tennessee. She is one of many volunteers from across the country who’ve left their homes to go to the places that currently need help, like the flooding in Tennessee.

Tuesday night, the Red Cross and our partners cared for more than 80 people in three emergency shelters. More than 140 trained Red Cross disaster volunteers are working alongside our partners and have helped to provide more than 180 meals and snacks and distribute more than 2,000 critical relief supplies to people in need.

Red Crosser Debra Fisher surveys damaged areas in Waverly following Saturday’s flooding.

Where it’s safe to do so, Red Cross emergency response vehicles are traveling through affected communities to provide water, food and cleanup supplies. Red Cross volunteers are also helping to assess the damage left behind by the flooding. This information will help response organizations learn what types of help people may need in the coming days and weeks.

TROPICAL STORM HENRI

As the flood waters recede in the wake of Tropical Storm Henri, people are beginning the difficult task of cleaning up their homes and neighborhoods. The American Red Cross is there, working closely with officials and partners to make sure people get the help they need.

Illinois volunteers Cynthia Altman and Joyce Wilson have deployed to New Jersey to help after the storm, including going door to door to see what the extend of the needs are and doing damage assessments.

Cindy Altman does mobile damage assessment in the New Jersey town of Jamesburg.

In some of the hardest hit areas, the Red Cross will be distributing emergency supplies such as cleanup kits and tarps as soon as it is safe to do so. Responding to disasters is a team effort and no single organization can do it alone — particularly in this current environment.

WESTERN WILDFIRES

Massive wildfires out west continue to scorch acre after acre and tens of thousands of people are still evacuated, waiting to learn the fate of their homes and livelihoods. The American Red Cross has been helping since June and will continue to support people affected by the ongoing wildfires.

Residents in communities near 17 western fires are still evacuated, and Red Cross disaster workers are supporting shelters in California, Washington, Minnesota and Nevada. Seven states — including California, Nevada, Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana — are facing air quality alerts due to the massive fires.

In California, Red Cross disaster workers are helping evacuees find a safe place to stay, food to eat and emotional support during this challenging time.

Illinois volunteer Jan Fulfs shares a photo from the airport as she heads to California

Trained volunteers like Jan Fulfs of Illinois were there, assisting with health needs for the thousands of people who have had to evacuate. Volunteers are also replacing prescription medications, eyeglasses or critical medical equipment, like canes and wheelchairs, that were left behind in the rush to get to safety. Jan even assisted a woman who had collapsed, possibly saving her life.

BE A RED CROSS VOLUNTEER

In this very active disaster year, another way you can help is to become part of the Red Cross trained and ready volunteer workforce to make sure we can provide comfort and support to anyone who needs aid after a disaster.

There is a special need right now for shelter volunteers and health professionals to help care for people affected by disasters. Shelter volunteers help support reception, registration, feeding, dormitory, information collection and other important tasks inside emergency shelters.

Health professionals assist with people’s health needs in disaster shelters and provide hands-on care in alignment with their professional license (RN and LPN/LVN). Daily observation and health screening for COVID-19-like illness among shelter residents may also be required. We have both associate and supervisory level opportunities available. If you are an RN, LPN, LVN, APRN, NP, EMT, paramedic, MD/DO or PA with a current and unencumbered license, this position could be right for you.

The Red Cross also needs local Disaster Action Teams (DAT) volunteers to help respond 24/7 to local emergencies, particularly home fires. DAT volunteers help ensure that people affected by local disasters have relief and critical recovery resources, including a place to stay, food to eat and clothing. If you are team-oriented and want to help your neighbor, becoming a DAT responder may be just the thing for you.

Find out more about volunteering with the Red Cross here.

GIVE BLOOD Disasters such as hurricanes, wildfires, floods and tornadoes can force planned blood drives to be canceled, compromising the ability of the Red Cross to provide blood to hospital patients in need. Donating blood is a simple way to make a difference.

Thankfully, recent disasters have only forced the cancellation of about half a dozen blood drives so far, resulting in approximately 200 blood donations going uncollected. But we are still in peak hurricane and wildfire season with more challenges likely in the days and weeks ahead.

Additionally, in recent weeks, the Red Cross has seen the number of blood donors coming out to give drop by nearly 10%. This decline in donors is believed to be due to multiple reasons, including the continued effects of the pandemic on blood drive cancellations and donor availability as well as back-to-school preparations for many families.

Part of being prepared for emergencies is ensuring an adequate blood supply. It’s the blood already on the shelves that helps save lives in an emergency. The Red Cross urges individuals to make an appointment to donate today by finding a blood drive at RedCrossBlood.org, 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App, to ensure blood continues to be available for patients in need.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month: Teen Relies on Blood Transfusions to Fight the Pain

Tyler Meeks is just 15 years old and has been dealing with sickle cell disease his whole life. About 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease. Most are of African descent. The disease causes red blood cells to harden and form a C-shape (like a sickle). When hardened, the cells can get caught in blood vessels and cause serious complications for patients. These complications can include severe pain, respiratory conditions, organ failure, and even stroke.

Tyler’s mother Tanika takes him to get a blood transfusion every 4 weeks. She says he has been depending on this blood to help him with the painful side effects of living with sickle cell disease for nearly his entire life. There is no substitute for the blood transfusion, it can only be real blood given by volunteer donors that people with sickle cell disease turn to for help during a pain crisis.

Sickle Cell Disease is an inherited blood disorder that is often found at birth. According to the CDC, sickle cell causes the red blood cells in a person’s body to become C-shaped, like a sickle, instead of the normal round shape and blocks the flow of blood. The effects of this are extreme pain to the person and other severe symptoms.

People with sickle cell disease (SCD) start to have signs of the disease during the first year of life, usually around 5 months of age. Symptoms and complications of SCD are different for each person and can range from mild to severe.

The best match for an African-American child with sickle cell disease usually comes from an African-American blood donor and many patients of sickle cell can require multiple transfusions a year throughout their entire life. To minimize complications, it is best for children with sickle cell disease to receive blood that closely matches their own.

“I am so thankful for those who give blood for the sickle cell patients,” Tanika said. She knows that donors to the American Red Cross can designate their blood for sickle cell patients, something she says leaves her “always smiling.”

There is no widely used cure for sickle cell disease. However, the Red Cross supports one of the most critical sickle cell treatments of all – blood transfusions. For many patients, a close blood type match is essential and is found in donors of the same race or similar ethnicity.

Sign up to give blood at an upcoming Red Cross blood drive and make a difference to the patients in need of blood.

Click here to make your next donation appointment.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Learn more about Sickle Cell Disease here.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month: Mom of 2 Dedicates Her Life to Chronic Disease Research

Beverly Chukwudozie of Evanston is a senior researcher at the University of Illinois Chicago, a mother of two, and living with sickle cell disease.

About 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease. Most are of African descent. The disease causes red blood cells to harden and form a C-shape (like a sickle). When hardened, the cells can get caught in blood vessels and cause serious complications for patients. These complications can include severe pain, respiratory conditions, organ failure, and even stroke.

There is no widely used cure for sickle cell disease. However, the Red Cross supports one of the most critical sickle cell treatments of all – blood transfusions. For many patients, a close blood type match is essential and is found in donors of the same race or similar ethnicity.

Beverly credits blood donation to saving her life several times. She says blood donation is “a gift that keeps on giving,” as it helps to alleviate some of the painful symptoms of sickle cell disease. Currently Beverly works at the University of Illinois Cancer Center as a researcher in cancer and health disparities and holds Master’s Degrees in Public Health and Business Administration.

She continues to be an advocate for people with sickle cell disease like her, and encourages others to give blood.

“I am alive today because I could get a transfusion,” she said reflecting on the times blood has helped to save her life and the some 30 transfusions she’s had in her life.

She adds, “Blood transfusion is a life-saving gift, but the receiver does not get an opportunity to thank the giver or share the impact of this precious gift. Thank you to everyone who donates blood, as it is a necessary treatment for many health conditions.”

Sign up to give blood at an upcoming Red Cross blood drive and make a difference to the patients in need of blood.

Click here to make your next donation appointment.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Learn more about Sickle Cell Disease here.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month: Stem Cell Transplant Treatment for Sickle Cell Disease Improve Chicago Man’s Life

Sickle Cell Warrior & Ambassador, Terrance Hill

Courtesy of Sick Cells

Terrance Hill spent the first 37 years of his life Terrance Hill dealing with the effects of sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder that causes red blood cells to harden and form a C-shape (like a sickle). When hardened, the cells can get caught in blood vessels and cause serious complications for patients. These complications can include severe pain, respiratory conditions, organ failure, and even stroke- and Terrance had a stroke at just 7 years old. It was severe enough that as a child he had to re-learn how to walk following the stroke event.

Cold weather is often a trigger for the severe pain people with sickle cell disease experience so growing up in Chicago’s harsh winters was a disadvantage for Terrance. When plunged into a pain crisis a blood transfusion was often the choice for doctors’ to help alleviate his pain. Terrance says he has been receiving blood transfusions since that stroke at age 7.

In 2017, Terrance received a bone marrow/stem cell transplant that alleviated most of the symptoms of sickle cell disease, improving his life so much he says he feels “half-cured,” compared to his life before the transplant.

“It’s important for the world to know that Sickle Cell Disease is more than a hindrance that impacts the lifestyle of warriors by presenting oppositions whether we are at home, school, or work which can make the management complex for families and caregivers,” Terrance said. He still works closely with his sickle cell support group where other people with the disease can share and learn from each other’s experiences.

Additionally, Terrance is heavily involved with the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Illinois and works to get sickle cell-related bills amended to improve the lives and care of other sickle cell patients.

There is no widely used cure for sickle cell disease. However, the Red Cross supports one of the most critical sickle cell treatments of all – blood transfusions. For many patients, a close blood type match is essential and is found in donors of the same race or similar ethnicity.

Sign up to give blood at an upcoming Red Cross blood drive and make a difference to the patients in need of blood.

Click here to make your next donation appointment.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Learn more about Sickle Cell Disease here.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month: Mother Who Lost Son to Sickle Cell Works to Keep His Memory Alive

Linda Hubbard and her youngest son, Brax

Linda Hubbard has been dealing with the health effects of Sickle Cell Anemia since 1982 when her son, Brandon, was born. A daughter, Britt, was born with sickle cell trait and her youngest, Brax, also has sickle cell leaving her family completely immersed in living with Sickle Cell Anemia.

Sickle Cell Disease is an inherited blood disorder that is often found at birth. According to the CDC, sickle cell causes the red blood cells in a person’s body to become C-shaped, like a sickle, instead of the normal round shape and blocks the flow of blood. The effects of this are extreme pain to the person and other severe symptoms.

Sadly, Sickle Cell Disease robbed Linda’s son Brandon of his life at just age 27 and her whole family continues to grieve the loss. They decided to do something about the many others still living with Sickle Cell and wanted to do something positive to keep his memory alive and make it so his death not be in vain. Linda established the BranLin Sickle Cell Foundation to help children and families who suffer from the effects of the illness.

Brax and Linda at an event representing their foundation, the “BranLin Sickle Cell Foundation” in honor of Linda’s eldest son, Brandon, who died of complications caused by Sickle Cell Disease

Linda and her family continue the daily battle of what Sickle Cell presents as Brax received regular blood transfusions, something that can help with the “tremendous pain” caused by Sickle Cell Anemia. He has been hospitalized countless times and faces the threat of additional complications like more pain episodes, acute chest syndrome, fevers, jaundice, avascular necrosis, pulmonary hypertension and other symptoms that can shorten life expectancy. Through a clinical trial for gene therapy, Brax has seen improvement to his sickle cell disease and sees hope for the future.

“Help is on the way,” he said.

Linda’s youngest son, Brax, still lives and struggles with Sickle Cell Disease causing many hospital stays and blood transfusions and exchanges

“It is important for us to promote awareness regarding sickle cell since it is a debilitating disease that doesn’t get much research and many people of all ethnicities know nothing about it,” Linda said.

“Although it is the most common inherited disease worldwide, most are clueless of the hardships it presents and loss of life sickle cell is responsible for. I’m always willing to do my share to give sickle cell the attention it deserves.”

Now Linda and her family hopes they can continue to promote awareness and help educate the public about Sickle Cell Disease and ease the burden to other families living with it as well.

Brax says the goal can be summed up in the logo of his mother’s foundation: representing his hand, pulling up his brother’s hand in the fight for his life against Sickle Cell Disease as together they work to support others and ease the challenges of Sickle Cell Disease.

“There’s a lot of darkness when it comes to sickle cell, so I just want to share some light,” said Brax.

There is no widely used cure for sickle cell disease. However, the Red Cross supports one of the most critical sickle cell treatments of all – blood transfusions. For many patients, a close blood type match is essential and is found in donors of the same race or similar ethnicity.

Sickle cell trait is inherited, and many individuals are not aware that they carry this trait. Sickle cell trait is not sickle cell disease and it can never become sickle cell disease. However, health experts recommend that individuals learn their sickle cell trait status and consult their medical provider on what it means for them. It is estimated that about 1 in 13 Black or African American babies in the U.S. is born with sickle cell trait, which means they have inherited the sickle cell gene from one of their parents. Individuals with sickle cell trait are eligible to donate blood. Donations from individuals without the trait may be able to help a patient facing a sickle cell crisis.

Sign up to give blood at an upcoming Red Cross blood drive and make a difference to the patients in need of blood.

Click here to make your next donation appointment.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Learn more about Sickle Cell Disease here.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month: Mom with Sickle Cell Anemia Thrives in Bronzeville

Robin Newsome tries to do it all; she is a mother, a daughter, a friend, a full-time worker in addition to owning her own business and more. On top of all the things she manages, she also fights daily to live with Sickle Cell Anemia; a blood disorder that causes deformed red blood cells in a person’s body and can cause severe, debilitating pain.

Robin’s own mother remembers her as a two-year-old child just crying and crying to the point she was taken to the hospital. As a toddler, Robin was experiencing her first pain crisis and was diagnosed with Sickle Cell disease though today many babies are diagnosed at birth.

Trips to the hospital became a regular part of Robin’s life with sometimes as many as three or four hospital stays a month. This deeply interfered with Robin’s life as a kid and teenager with doctor’s going as far to only give her a life expectancy of about 18 or 19 years old.

Today Robin is in her late forties, defying doctor’s predictions and living her life to the fullest though she still deals with pain and the difficult life that sickle cell presents.

“A lot of people like to say that I’m resilient, strong; a warrior when most times I feel defeated, weak and scared but I try not to complain about the issues that I face…I continue to push through and try to live the life that I can live,” Robin said.

One of the most prominent effects of living with Sickle Cell Disease is feeling extreme pain. Robin says the pain can be located in different parts of her body but is “excruciating.” She also knows her triggers that can cause a pain crisis like cold weather and stress, two things she deals with often living in chilly Chicago and the stresses that come with her everyday life.

One particularly painful memory is her own Sweet 16 birthday party when she was in so much pain she could only watch her friends enjoy her party while laid up on a couch, fighting the pain she was feeling because of Sickle Cell.

Sickle Cell Disease has caused additional complications to her life including acute chest syndrome, pulmonary hypertension, issues with her eyes and more.

For Robin and most people with Sickle Cell Disease, blood transfusions can alleviate some of that pain and help get them out of a crisis. Robin has received many transfusions over the years, even a full body blood exchange when all of her body’s blood was replaced with new blood.

Today, Robin is grateful for a work environment where her supervisors understand her situation and that she has access to the blood transfusions that she credits with saving her life over and over again thanks to volunteer donors who give blood so that it is there on the shelf when she needs it.

“The way blood transfusions have helped me is tremendous. I can feel instant relief when I get one…and I’m just grateful for the people that do donate.”

In the U.S., it is estimated that over 100,000 people have sickle cell disease — most who are of African descent and will require regular blood transfusions to help manage their disease. Beyond Sickle Cell Disease, every two seconds someone in U.S. needs a blood transfusion, from people who experience complicated childbirths, people fighting cancer, and accident victims being raced to emergency rooms.

Robin continues to be thankful for all the blood she has received over the years and how it has helped her manage the pain and the disease.

“Roll up your sleeves and give, it helps not just me but other people who really need it.”

There is no widely used cure for sickle cell disease. However, the Red Cross supports one of the most critical sickle cell treatments of all – blood transfusions. For many patients, a close blood type match is essential and is found in donors of the same race or similar ethnicity.

Sign up to give blood at an upcoming Red Cross blood drive and make a difference to the patients in need of blood.

Click here to make your next donation appointment.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Learn more about Sickle Cell Disease here.

Blood Drive in Memory of Zaion Huber

Zaion Huber was born at 30 weeks and passed away shortly after due to complications from his mother, Jill having Kell antibodies in her system, a condition in which the antibodies in a pregnant woman’s blood goes through the placenta and impacts the baby’s red blood cells, resulting in severe anemia.

Prior to being born Zaion received five intrauterine blood transfusions during pregnancy. The Huber family hosted a blood drive on June 25, 2021 in honor of Zaion.

Jill says because of Zaion and previous pregnancies their family has learned so much about Kell, including how to treat affected pregnancies and also that everyone needs to live life to its fullest every day.

“Nobody knows how many days or hours you have left here on this earth. Zaion lived for 26 hours and 26 minutes and impacted more lives than imaginable,” she added.

The family says blood donors help people in so many ways including babies. 36 units of blood were collected in honor of baby Zaion.

If you are healthy and feeling well, please visit redcrossblood.org schedule an appointment to schedule and appointment to donate at a blood drive near you.

Written by Communications Manager, Drew Brown

Family Gives Back After Six-Year-Old Boy is Diagnosed with Blood Disorder

Six-year-old Anthony likes to play with toys and run around like any other kid of his age. He is also a fighter and a survivor.

In 2019, Anthony was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), a rare blood disorder in which the blood does not clot normally. This can cause excessive bruising and bleeding. Due to his condition, Anthony receives platelet transfusions once a week.

He also battled leukemia, receiving 19 rounds of chemotherapy treatment. He has been cancer free for a year.

“My son is a fighter. He fought hard and won,” says his mom, Kelly.

Soon after learning about Anthony’s ITP diagnosis, Kelly, began organizing blood drives to give back and to help others in need of blood and platelets like her son.

For the last three years, Kelly and Anthony’s brothers have been partnering with the American Red Cross to hold an annual Blood Drive in Honor of Anthony, collecting a total of 116 units of blood.

The need for blood is constant, and by giving blood you are making a difference in the lives of patients like Anthony.

If you are eligible and healthy, we encourage you to make an appointment to donate blood. Visit redcrossblood.org to schedule an appointment in the days, weeks and months to come at a blood drive near you.

Written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Development Communications Manager.