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

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

Making the Most of His Time: Kaleb Hall

“I feel like it’s good to always help people. If you help people, they’re going to end up helping someone else, and it’s just like a cycle of helping people.”
-Kaleb Hall

Kaleb Hall is a high school senior in Decatur, Illinois. He volunteers for the American Red Cross in the South Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region.

Having completed the necessary credits to graduate, Kaleb has extra time during this semester and wanted to devote it to doing something productive.

“I only have two classes and get out of school early, so I have more time. I wanted to volunteer my time, instead of just sitting at home watching TV,” Kaleb says. “I have a whole semester of free time, so I am going to be doing this a lot.”

Kaleb’s father, Xavier inspired him to get involved with the Red Cross. Xavier served on the disaster team, installing smoke alarms and performing other tasks as a volunteer.

Recently, Kaleb served as a blood donor ambassador at a Red Cross blood drive in Decatur. He helped sign blood donors in as they arrived for their appointments, provided them with helpful information and answered questions.

Kaleb enjoyed the assignment and is looking forward to getting involved even further, in the weeks and months ahead.

“Everybody is nice, it’s a good environment. There are a lot of options,” he says.

Thank you, Kaleb for choosing to give your time and serve as a Red Cross volunteer! To join Kaleb as a volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

A Sickle Cell Patient’s Plea to Her Community

A Sickle Cell Patient’s Plea to Her Community

Over 500 hospital stays and countless blood transfusions and exchanges in her lifetime that she’s lost count, Jasmine has one goal in mind these days—to make it one complete year without having to be hospitalized. A mother of a 4- and 11-year-old, both who are also sickle cell trait carriers, she has much to live for and motivation to raise awareness for sickle cell disease, a disease she has lived with since birth, and desire to encourage her family and friends to be donors.

“At birth, my mother was told I had the sickle cell trait. My mother didn’t think much of it, and all was well until my brother was born and he tested positive for sickle cell disease. That’s when she [mother] had me retested and I too came back positive for sickle cell disease. After that, my mother’s journey included constant trips to the emergency room. When it wasn’t my brother, it was me in one crisis or another, but always, the both of us needing treatment which included blood transfusions,” recalled Jasmine

Thirty-two years later, Jasmine continues to fall into crisis, especially during weather changes. The one constant has been her mother who has stood by her without complaining or tears. “My mother was a single mother and many times she had to choose her job over being there for me when I’ve been in crisis. While she came close many times to losing her job, my mother stood by me and made sure I received the care I needed no matter how long it took,” said Jasmine. And many times, recovery was prolonged because of the lack of blood on the shelves that Jasmine desperately needed to help alleviate her pain.

“From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate all blood donors. Because of them, I’ve been able to pull through the worst of my crises—even those where I’ve coded, and my family thought I was not going to make it back. But donations are needed constantly. To my Black community—family and friends—your blood is needed for sickle cell patients like me. Your blood saves lives. Your blood has saved me,” stated Jasmine.

One in 3 African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell disease. To help ensure patients have the blood products they need, the American Red Cross is working with partners in the Black community to grow the number of blood donors who are Black. Foe sickle cell patients, regular blood transfusions are critical to manage extreme pain and life-threatening complications.

Please schedule a blood donation appointment today by visiting RedCrossBlood.org, using the Blood Donor App or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

Kayla Williams: A Sickle Cell Disease Warrior and Advocate

Kayla Williams: A Sickle Cell Disease Warrior and Advocate

As an infant, Kayla’s parents tell her she would cry incessantly and noticed her feet and ears were continually swollen. Doctors’ visits weren’t very helpful, and they usually ended with them prescribing pain medication and getting sent on their way. Finally, one doctor ordered extensive blood work and the cause was identified — Kayla had sickle cell disease traced to her parents who did not know they are sickle cell trait carriers. Her parents quickly familiarized themselves with what sickle disease is and how to advocate on behalf of their daughter to her doctors.

“I’ve managed my sickle cell disease with the help of my parents who have been my biggest advocates since my diagnosis and doctors who were kind and patient and taught me how to listen to my body and know how to read and manage my hemoglobin and fluid levels,” states Kayla.

Blood transfusions have been necessary for Kayla and it’s these transfusions that alleviate the pain that many sickle cell patients describe as glass chards being hammered repeatedly throughout their body.

“Know your body and be your biggest advocate.” Kayla Williams

“I work every day to avoid a crisis. Knowing my body and what triggers a crisis are always top of mind for me. Luckily, the root of my health problems was discovered early on, and my parents connected wth medical providers who were not only compassionate, but also, patient enough to teach me about a disease I would have to work to manage all of my life,” states Kayla.

Sickle cell awareness is a journey and one that Kayla wishes to impact through Kay’s Korner, a foundation she established during the pandemic. “While in college, I searched for a sickle cell organization where I could work to support pediatric patients and their families just like me and my parents had been when I was diagnosed,  and I just couldn’t find one. I realized that I could be that organization. I’m so grateful to family, friends, and hospital partners who work with Kay’s Korner an organization I established so that children with sickle cell disease learn about the disease they are living with and how they can transition to adulthood just like I and other sickle cell patients have done.”

Kayla credits her parents who quickly went into action to connect her with care and with medical facilities dedicated to pediatric sickle cell care which is so different from adult care. Because of this Kayla was able to grow and flourish in the company of other children living with sickle cell disease.

One in 3 African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell disease. To help ensure patients have the blood products they need, the American Red Cross is working with partners in the Black community to grow the number of blood donors who are Black.

To learn more, visit RedCrossBlood.org/OurBlood.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Service and Scholarships

“It’s a good way to let your school connect with your community, letting people come in and see what your school’s all about. Also, it teaches students how to reach out and be active in their community and give back; these are things everyone should know how to do, and it helps you know how to do that.”
-Lainey Campbell

The American Red Cross High School Scholarship Program gives high school students the opportunity to help others, while helping the students as they move on to higher education. The scholarship program is available for high schools that host at least one Red Cross blood drive during the year.

For 17 years, Marty Green has helped successfully run this program at East Peoria High School. The school coordinates five blood drives every year, primarily thanks to the efforts of the students who are involved in the program.

“My role is purely supplemental. If they need something, I get it for them, but other than that, it’s completely driven by students,” says Green. “They come to me, I don’t go to them.”

The larger number of units of blood a school collects, the larger the amount of scholarships are awarded to participating students.

Lainey Campbell played an integral role in the East Peoria High School program the past few years, and received a scholarship for her efforts after graduating earlier this year. She is now using that scholarship to help pay for college.

“It’s very helpful, because college is expensive, so it’s very nice,” she says.

Perhaps more than the financial benefit, Campbell says the life skills she learned while coordinating blood drives and interacting with the community were very helpful for her. She encourages other high school students to get involved at their schools.

“For people who want to work on community service but also want help with funding for college, it’s a great program for that and it really rewards you – it rewards you for doing something outside your comfort zone. A lot of schools like to push leadership, teaching students to give back to their community. If you’re looking for that, it’s a great way to do it.”
-Lainey Campbell

Green, who is retiring after this year, recalls how Campbell and other students have answered the call to take charge of this program during his time being involved with it.

“Each year, a different student steps up to be the leader. They’ll come to me and say, ‘Mr. Green, I’d really like to run this,'” he says. “At the beginning, it was some work to get things going – now, it runs itself. I am fully confident that when I leave, it’s going to keep the momentum.”

Campbell echoes those sentiments, saying other students helped her, even while she was leading the program. She received support from previous student leaders, her fellow school band members and her friends along the way. She says, “I had a lot of support from my friends. I would send them the (blood drive) flyer and ask if they would post it on their Snapchat story or Instagram, and they did.”

Campbell also recalls the positive interaction with Red Cross staff, the day of the first blood drive she hosted. In addition, seeing so many people come in to give blood that day left a lasting effect on her.

“Everyone from the Red Cross I worked with that day was wonderful, they were all so nice and they explained it all to me,” she says. “It was my first experience seeing a community come together for a good deed, giving back to the community.”

By participating in the American Red Cross High School Scholarship Program, your high school can help build a stronger community. Click here to learn more, and to find out how your school can get involved!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Latina Blood Donor Giving the Gift of Time and Life

Intrigued by blood donation when a mobile donation site came to her place of employment when she worked in downtown Chicago, Tina signed up to give blood and instantly became a loyal donor. Nine gallons and 10 years later, like clockwork, Tina takes time every 8 weeks or so to selflessly give the gift of life. “It costs absolutely nothing but a little bit of your time,” states Tina. “And it gives the gift of more time on earth for someone who needs blood to live.”

Tina hopes her daughters, Anahi and Gia, and generations to come, follow in her footsteps.

Tina has never had a close loved one who has needed blood and doesn’t look for praise or recognition, her reasoning, and decision to be a blood donor, is a simple one, “The more I learned about how blood and platelet donations help others, the more inspired I became to be a recurring donor. Blood saves lives – something money can’t buy. You really don’t know how your simple act of kindness will change someone’s life and it requires so very little of you.”

Tina’s selfless giving and impact is a widespread one. As a Hispanic blood donor, Tina is making a powerful contribution to many patients in need. African American and Latino populations have a higher frequency of type O blood than other ethnicities which can treat a broader cross-section of patients. Accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease all count on blood donations to battle illness and injury.

Tina’s giving inspired her husband so much so that he is now a bone marrow donor.

After doing further research, Tina decided to be a platelet donor and drives almost an hour on the weekends to do a two-hour platelet donation. Platelets are a key clotting component which need to be transfused within just five days after a donation and are often needed by cancer patients. Tina’s wish is that her platelet donations allow a cancer patient to enjoy and share more time with their loved ones.

“Share your health, and maybe even your lunch hour, go that extra mile for someone you don’t know – you really don’t know how your simple act of kindness will change someone’s life.”

–Tina Rocha Diaz, North Riverside, IL

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 time — and life? Visit redcrossblood.org to find a blood donation appointment opening near you.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

Denesha Carter Mitchell: A Sickle Cell Patient and Advocate

Denesha Carter Mitchell: A Sickle Cell Patient and Advocate

Denesha was four years old when her parents discovered that she had sickle cell disease. It wasn’t until the birth of her brother that it was uncovered that both had sickle cell disease. Despite near death crises and obstacles with the medical teams who have been challenged with how to care for her, Denesha remains optimistic and draws on her faith for strength to keep going, not only for herself and her family, but also for the countless number of sickle cell patients who are hesitant to let others know their pain.

“Through the years, even when the pain has felt like glass being jack hammered throughout my body, I’ve stayed strong. I’ve always told myself that I have a purpose in life and there’s a reason why sickle cell landed with me. I’ve resolved that my purpose is to be a voice,” states Denesha. “When I’ve had to stand up for myself when medical treatments have not worked and stood my ground for alternative opinions and courses of treatment, I realized, if I can be strong enough to be an advocate for myself – I can be a voice for others.”

Advocacy for early testing, compassionate medical care, and awareness and motivation for the Black community to be blood donors are all main components to Denesha’s mission in life. “It is the blood transfusions from generous donors, that get me and my brother through the toughest moments and allow us to live. During a near death episode two years ago, I resolved to not only be a voice, but also educate my community and inspire them to donate. Their drops of blood are life for those of us with sickle cell. Blood donors make a difference for our life span,” said Denesha.

Blood transfusion helps patients by increasing the number of normal red blood cells in the body, helping to deliver oxygen throughout the body and unblock blood vessels. A single sickle cell patient can require multiple blood transfusions each year throughout their life to treat complications from this disease.

Denesha, middle, pictured with her parents, siblings and nephews.

“I’m so grateful to have a strong family support network, which includes 11 brothers and sisters and their families. My parents, who check up on me daily, my husband who has stood by me for the past 20 years, my children, and so many other family members and friends who step up to help and be my hands and feet when I’ve been wheelchair bound. I realize that others may not have that type of team rallying for them – I wish to be that support person for someone who doesn’t have it,” said Denesha.

Denesha’s husband has played an integral part of her support system.

Denesha works for the Cook County Forest Preserve and has visions to fully cement an organization that not only supports sickle cell patients, but also commemorates those that lost their life to sickle cell disease and motivates the Black community to be recurring blood donors.

The blood that runs through our veins can ease the suffering of others — and patients battling sickle cell disease need your help now. Please schedule a blood donation appointment today by visiting RedCrossBlood.org, using the Red Cross Blood Donor App or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

A New Lease on Life: Terry’s Story

Terry Kenney has common variable immunodeficiency, a disorder that impairs her immune system. Blood donations are playing a big role in significantly improving Terry’s health.

Learn more about her story and how you can give blood, in this short video.