Sharing a Lifesaving Message: Kraig’s Story

Kraig Kotter has a second lease on life, and it is something he does not take for granted.

Kraig is a heart transplant recipient; he had the procedure in September 2016. Blood products from numerous blood donors were necessary to complete the 10-hour surgery.

“I had 14 blood donors help get me through that procedure,” Kraig says. “It gives you a sense of responsibility to live a life deserving of all those gifts. Part of that responsibility is spreading the word to people who are not informed, about the importance of this.”

That sense of responsibility has led Kraig to take his message on the road. He travels and speaks with groups of all ages, including high school students, about the importance of blood donation.

“When I speak to people, I give them a little responsibility to give blood,” he says.

Some of Kraig’s first memories of blood donation came courtesy of his father. Kraig says, he remembers his father giving blood in his hometown, located in Schuyler County, Illinois.

Kraig realizes not everyone may understand the significance of giving blood, and how much it can make a difference when you are on the receiving end. That’s all part of his message for those he meets.

“People may not realize how important it is to give blood. If I can be a small part of changing their minds, it’s worth it to me to spend the time doing that.”
-Kraig Kotter

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. The American Red Cross supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood, and we depend on the generosity of donors to help save lives. Thank you, Kraig for sharing your story and helping inspire others to give the gift of lifesaving blood!

If you would like to help others who need blood, you can make an appointment today. Visit, call 800-RED-CROSS or use the free Red Cross Blood Donor App to sign up at a location near you.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

129 and Counting: Meet the Top Blood Donor in Illinois

Theresa Kallmbah from Mackinaw, Illinois has been donating blood since high school.

“I got started because one of the kids I hung out with had hemophilia and needed blood on a regular basis,” she said.

Theresa has faithfully donated blood and platelets ever since. In fact, she has donated so much that she currently is the top donor in the Illinois region. To date, Theresa has donated 129 gallons of blood. Yes, you read that correctly – 129 gallons.

The number even catches Theresa by surprise, when she hears it. “They tell me how much, and I’m looking at 55-gallon drums sitting side by side and thinking, ‘That much, really?'”

Theresa is an advocate for blood and platelet donation wherever she goes. She has started blood drives over the years, encourages everyone to donate and offers a simple explanation for why she continues to do so.

“I have something in my body that I have in abundance, and I don’t need all that I have. This person over here, whether I know them or not, may need that: an accident victim, a new baby, a surgical or cancer patient. Somebody who needs what I have. You can’t buy it. You can’t manufacture it. And, that person needs it to stay alive. I have too much, so why not give it to that person to help keep them alive? There’s no reason why not.”
-Theresa Kallmbah

Platelets are a big part of Theresa’s donation story. Platelets are eligible to be donated every seven days – up to 24 times a year. For perspective, whole blood donation is allowed six times per year.

Thank you for your dedication to giving blood and platelets, Theresa! Visit to join her and make an appointment at a location near you.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

The Importance of Donated Blood Products: Ivy’s Story

“My son has received more products than I ever thought one person could take. That’s where my passion comes from, seeing him need it and where he would be without it – which would be, nowhere.”
-Ivy Ward

Ivy Ward has firsthand knowledge of the importance of donated blood products. Her nine-year-old son, Finn was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia in July 2021.

“I’ve always been a blood donor. And so that’s really when I realized what exactly it means to be a donor and where our donations go to, and how much each individual needs, especially when it comes to leukemia,” Ivy said. “My son has received platelets and blood consistently the past two years, so that is really my driving factor.”

Despite being a longtime blood donor, Ivy did not think about cancer patients needing so much blood before her son was diagnosed and started receiving treatments. It was an eye-opening experience for her to see how donated blood products can help people with cancer, and in many other situations as well.

“I didn’t think about the illnesses like cancer that would need blood, just because their hemoglobin is down or they need platelets or anything like that,” she said.

Platelets are a key clotting component of blood often needed by cancer patients. By giving platelets regularly, donors can help patients fight cancer and recover from other life-threatening illnesses and injuries. Platelets must be transfused within just five days after a donation is made, and that is why there is a constant need for new and current donors to give to keep up with hospital demand.

Ivy has made numerous trips from her hometown of Gibson City, Illinois to get her son treatments at a children’s hospital in Chicago – approximately a two-hour trip each way. It is a trip she is thankful to make, because of the critical help the treatments provide to her son. Ivy wants everyone to know the importance of donating blood, plasma and platelets.

“Without donated blood products, he wouldn’t be here today,” she says. “Just in the last two years, he received more than 25 blood products and he’s just one kid. The hospital floors are full of kids that need that blood and would otherwise not be able to survive without it. And that’s not even counting emergency services that use it.”

Visit to make an appointment to donate.

“We see so many kids who need blood products and he’s still a kid who needs them, and we just appreciate everything the Red Cross does.”
-Ivy Ward

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Cleveland man stops in Romeoville to donate platelets on his tour to donate in every state

86-year-old Al Whitney of Cleveland stopped by the Red Cross office of Illinois River Valley in Romeoville as a platelet donor on April 18th. It’s his 11th stop during his third trek across the U.S. His goal is to encourage more people to donate.

Whitney said he started donating blood in 1965 and hosted as many as 56 blood drives a year until 2000. Whitney is also an avid platelet donor, with his trip to Illinois marking his 1,143rd donation.

In 2007, Whitney decided to donate platelets in every state to raise awareness. He accomplished that in just under five years, and after successfully completing it a second time, he is now at the beginning of his journey for the third time.

Platelets can be given every seven days, up to 24 times a year. By giving platelets regularly, donors can help patients fight cancer and recover from other life-threatening illnesses and injuries. Platelets must be transfused within just five days after a donation is made. That’s why there’s a constant — and often critical — need for new and current donors to give to keep up with hospital demand.

“I realized this is what we’re donating, we’re donating life,” Whitney said. “What’s important about it is a father is going to be able to walk his daughter down the aisle, a mother is going to see her son graduate from college, and that young couple over there, they are going to take their baby home. That’s what the important part is that keeps me going.”

Written by Communications Manager Mara Thompson

Inspired by Heartbreak: Savannah’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

How a blood bank brought an Illinois couple together 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Mara Thompson

Serving Others in Several Ways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Donated Blood Created a Family Legacy

Donated Blood Created a Family Legacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Blood drive in memory of Wilmette man collects more than 300 units of blood

On Sunday, hundreds of community members in Wilmette, Illinois rolled up their sleeves to help save lives in memory of one of their own. Kevin Joseph Smith Burke passed away from a rare heart condition in 2017 at 23-years-old.

“Kevin was our one big kid, he was a big risk taker, he loved to do crazy stuff and was very social,” his mother, Kathryn Smith said. “He absolutely loved people. He didn’t care how old you were, what race, or anything, he had friends all over the place. He was just one of those really fun kids.”

Kevin grew up in Wilmette attending St. Francis Xavier for elementary and middle school, which is where the blood drive was held. Following high school, Kevin developed the travel bug and moved to South Africa for several months, and then went on to become a successful triathlete, often placing in the top during competitions and was attending Loyola University at the time of his death.

After his passing, family friend Jeff Later approached them about hosting the blood drive he had started two years prior in Kevin’s honor. The drive went from collecting less than 100 units of blood, to now more than 300 units.

“It’s just great to see all these people here,” Kevin’s father, Kevin Burke said. “I always gave blood, but didn’t always understand the importance of it, but my line to everyone that comes in here is that you can save three lives.”

Many of Kevin’s friends and family members come from all over the city to give blood at this blood drive each year. While his family said Kevin would have loved to know everyone is showing up to support, he wouldn’t have necessarily been the first person to roll up a sleeve.

“He would have been scared of the needles,” Kevin Burke said. “He was this big, strong athlete, but small things like spiders and bugs freaked him out.”

His family couldn’t help but tear up when asked about what the wonderful turnout means to them, but say they are just trying to take something very tragic and turn it into something good.

“It’s not just about my son, it’s about saving people,” Kevin Burke said.

If you’re interested in hosting a blood drive of your own, would like to schedule an appointment to donate blood or volunteer at a blood drive, please visit

Giving After Receiving: Emery’s Story

Twelve years ago, Emery Taylor underwent organ transplant surgery which impacted him in many ways. Most significantly, because of his double organ transplants, Emery was inspired and has become a dedicated blood donor.

“I needed blood transfused during my surgery. Afterwards, all I could think was ‘someone selflessly donated their blood without knowing who it was going to and how it would save their life’. That someone who needed it to live was me and now it’s my turn.

Emery who is legally blind, makes arrangements with a ride share service to take him to and from his blood donation appointments and very little stops him from making his appointments, “We make time for the things we really care about. Donating blood is a simple thing to do and I urge everyone to give of themselves. I make it a priority because I was on the receiving end, and I know the difference it made in my life. Make it a priority. Donating blood is such a simple thing to do and you don’t know when you may be on the receiving end.”

Emery enjoys time with family when not advocating for the sight impaired or promoting blood donations.

Every two seconds someone in the United States needs blood as a result of surgery, an accident, cancer, sickle cell disease, a mother during labor, and many other instances. The blood on the shelf is what doctors count on during these times and the Red Cross counts on the generosity of blood donors to maintain a steady supply of blood on the shelves.

“I don’t let my vision loss stop me. Please, don’t let anything stop you from giving the gift of life.”

In addition to being a blood donor advocate, Emery dedicates his time with Sights Unlimited of Chicago Heights, a community-based support group for those who are blind or visually impaired and, in the near future, aims to host blood drives accessible to the visually impaired.

It is important that the Red Cross has a sufficient blood supply on-hand to meet the needs of patients every day and be prepared for emergencies of all types, including those that can disrupt blood drives, or require blood or platelet transfusions. Visit to find a blood drive near you or to learn how you can host a blood drive of your own.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza