Remembering Jasper Swafford

Jasper Swafford was diagnosed with leukemia at five-months-old and received many blood transfusions which undergoing cancer treatment.

At 21-months-old, a few hours after receiving news from doctors that he was on the road to recovery and he was in remission, his parents were told that Jasper’s heart was failing.

Sadly, Jasper passed away shortly after on March 30, 2021. Patricia Swafford, Jasper’s mother described him as a very happy baby who loved the character Lorax, his family and everything related to the animated movie Toy Story.

The Swafford family hosted a blood drive in honor of baby Jasper on July 7, 2021 at the Whitmore Oreana Community in Oreana, Illinois.

His parents have made it their mission to help other families dealing with childhood cancer and share the importance of donating blood. When you donate blood or platelets you’re helping cancer patients receive the lifesaving care they need.

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

Written by Communications & Marketing Intern Brianna Orto

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 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 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, call 800-RED-CROSS, or text the word REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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, 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 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 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 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.

4th Annual Summer Blood Drive Honors and Celebrates Twin Sisters

Turning personal tragedy into a life-giving opportunity is the motivating force behind the American Red Cross’s upcoming Flip Flops and Blood Drops Blood Drive.

In 2014, Gabrielle and Derek Troha were vacationing in Florida. She was 23-weeks pregnant with twins and prematurely gave birth to daughters Lana and Ellie. Both girls weighed just over one pound each and required extensive care in the NICU. Ellie contracted a bacterial infection at five days old and was given a blood transfusion. Sadly, she passed away the next day from the infection. Lana remained in the NICU in Orlando for another three months, with an additional month in the hospital near home in Rockford to overcome the many obstacles associated with prematurity. Lana received eight units of blood within the first five months of her life.

Fast forward to today, when Lana is a thriving, happy and healthy seven-year-old; she is also a beloved big sister to Lilly. Lana starts second grade this fall, loves fast-pitch softball (Mom is the coach!), and is an avid fan of Star Wars books and movies with Dad.

Gabrielle knows a great deal about the importance of blood donations: before having her daughters, she worked for the American Red Cross Biomedical Services for eight years as a phlebotomist and staff supervisor. Experiencing their family crisis first-hand really hit home for Gabrielle; she wanted to step up for others in need of lifesaving blood. The Trohas have partnered with the American Red Cross since 2018 to host an annual blood drive in memory of Ellie, and to honor Lana’s life. “This is our way of giving back and making sure there is blood on the shelves for other families who need it, like it was there for us when we needed it,” says Gabrielle.

The Flip Flops and Blood Drops Blood Drive is a reminder of carefree summer fun, but this is also the time of year when our nation’s blood is often in critically short supply. The first three blood drives have resulted in 157 units of donated blood, with the numbers increasing and exceeding goals each year. The goal for this year’s drive is 50 units, and will take place on August 2nd at the Flagg-Rochelle Park District in Rochelle, Illinois.

Visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to schedule your appointment to donate blood on August 2nd.

Flagg-Rochelle Park District
802 Jones Road
Rochelle, IL 61068
1 p.m. – 6 p.m.

You can also make an appointment to donate in the days, weeks and months to come at Enter your zip code to find a blood drive near you.

Blood drive safety 
The Red Cross has updated its pandemic safety protocols in alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Fully vaccinated individuals, including staff and donors, no longer need to wear masks or socially distance. Unvaccinated individuals continue to be required to wear masks and socially distance. Donors are asked to schedule an appointment prior to arriving at the drive.  

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley.

Route 66 Blood Donor Carries on Life-Giving Tradition to Honor Father

Becky Colwell-Ongenae has one of the best motivators for donating blood: her late father, Jerry.

Jerry Colwell in 1991. Always one to tell a joke, share a laugh and make his coworkers and patients smile, this is Jerry at his 50th birthday celebration, thrown by his employer – Meriter Hospital in Madison, WI. This is the hospital where he made all of his blood donations.

When Becky was growing up in Wisconsin, her dad spent his career as a physical therapist at their community hospital and volunteered for the local EMS. He was also a dedicated blood donor and ultimately gave 25 gallons of blood in his lifetime. Becky’s family still has his collection of Red Cross donor pins as a reminder of Mr. Colwell’s generosity and life-giving efforts.

Following in his footsteps, Becky started donating blood in high school and has given at least 40 units of blood. Although her schedule is hectic – Becky is the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Manager for Will County and has a family with two young children – she finds the time to donate several times a year. Becky maximizes her giving by being a Power Red donor, meaning each single donation gives nearly twice the amount of red cells and helps even more people. She has already made her appointment to donate on July 21st at the American Red Cross’s 5th Annual Blood Drive on Route 66 in Joliet, Illinois.

While Becky donates blood in memory of her father, she also sees the opportunity to pay it forward: “You never know when you might need it. Life changes quickly and can go sideways in a flash. I want blood to be available when – or if – the people I love, or anyone, needs it.”

Becky Colwell-Ongenae supporting blood donation in honor of her father on WJOL.

Becky looks forward to the all-around positive experience of blood drives, including good snacks and cookies at the canteen afterward, and the welcoming volunteers on-site. For first time blood donors, or anyone who might be afraid of the donation process, Becky offers simple advice: “If you’re driven to give, but not feeling confident about the needle, look away. It’s over before you know it! Focus on this simple act of kindness to fellow human beings.” 

Make your appointment to donate at the Blood Drive on Route 66, July 21st:

July 21st, 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM

Rialto Square Theatre
102 N Chicago St, Joliet, IL 60432

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley