Hispanic Heritage Month: Meet Francisco Magaña

During Hispanic Heritage Month, the Red Cross of Illinois is highlighting Latino men and women who are committed to advancing the mission of the American Red Cross. Today, we celebrate Donor Services Team Supervisor, Francisco Magaña.

Over ten years ago, Francisco felt the calling to learn a new skill and take his career in a different direction. Inspired by his brother who lost his battle with leukemia, and the countless number of blood transfusions that allowed him to share more time with his family, Francisco decided phlebotomy would not only honor his brother, but serve as a fulfilling profession. It was this career change that led Francisco to the Red Cross.

Francisco at an American Red Cross Memorial Blood drive honoring R. Scott Falk. 

Over the course of ten years with the Red Cross, Francisco has worked his way up to Team Supervisor and now has the pleasure and satisfaction of coordinating mobile blood donor teams as they collect blood from generous donors across the state.

Regarding Hispanic Heritage Month, Francisco says, “There are so many things I cherish from my culture, but family and their unconditional support are right at the top. No matter what it is, and what time of day it is, I’ve had my family’s support which is what I now offer my daughter. This is the same principle I apply with my Red Cross team. No matter what and where, my sleeves are rolled up ready to work.”

Francisco, with his wife and daughter, like to explore Mexico to learn more about their history.

In addition to love of family and hard work, Francisco is making sure he celebrates his culture by traveling to Mexico with his family to explore places and traditions which have been celebrated by his family for centuries.

Visit redcrossblood.org to make an appointment at a blood drive or blood collection facility near you. 

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

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

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

Red Cross Volunteer Nancy Luckenbill Celebrates 55 Years of Service

“I was inspired by a fellow freshman at college, and figured if she could donate blood, I could too.”

That was just the start for Nancy Luckenbill in the mid-1950s, who has dedicated a life of service to the Red Cross – no matter how you measure it. She just received Red Cross pins to commemorate 55 years of volunteering and for donating 18 gallons of blood.

Involvement with the Red Cross was a true partnership with her husband Fred, who spent a 40-year administrative and fundraising career with the organization nationally. After working for the Red Cross in Nebraska and Wisconsin, they settled in the Quad Cities in Illinois. Nancy’s background as a teacher was a perfect fit for volunteering to teach life-saving skills to high school home nursing classes, scouting groups, and Junior Red Cross clubs in local elementary schools.

Together Nancy and Fred attended Red Cross conventions and met fellow Red Crossers from all over the country, befriending many other volunteers and joining with a Red Cross retiree social group in St. Louis. The Red Cross mission has been a big part of their lives and made a difference for their children, one of whom has chosen a career in social work.

Nancy retired early from teaching and became a Red Cross volunteer receptionist in the Quad Cities office. She was there each week before COVID-19. Now she goes to the office to donate blood when she can, and to make calls for blood drives and other Red Cross events. “It’s a volunteer job where you feel like you’ve helped someone. It’s worthwhile and one of the best places to donate to, especially with all the recent disasters the Red Cross has responded to.”

Thank you, Nancy – we are honored by your 55 years of service!

To view Red Cross volunteer opportunities, visit www.redcross.org/volunteer

Written by Communications & Marketing Volunteer, Virginia Hopley

An Unexpected Call to the Rescue

<strong>An Unexpected Call to the Rescue</strong>

In May of this year, the Tate’s family residence became uninhabitable when, due to exposure to the Midwest elements, their roof collapsed destroying walls, furniture, appliances, and precious personal items. As they sat on the porch of their home trying to make sense of what happened and what to do next, Giovanni Tate’s phone rang and he says, “It was a call from an angel—it was the Red Cross.”

In a matter of hours, on that unforgettable Thursday night, the Tate Family found themselves at the American Red Cross of Illinois headquarters, meeting with two caseworkers who immediately went to work to make sure the Tate Family, including their puppy Loki, had a place to stay that night.

“We had only heard about stories of people affected by disaster or a home fire and organizations that show up to help. You hear about it, but don’t know how entirely true it is. I was humbled that the Red Cross, who knew nothing about me and my family, without asking, made that call that for us, was a rescue call. We are forever grateful to the angels from the Red Cross that worked with us and made sure we weren’t left homeless while we worked out what to do next,” stated Giovanni.

During the midst of it all, top of mind was the impending graduation taking place that Saturday. Shaniya’s graduation gown and decorations were all in the house under piles of rubble. “We were so concerned how this would affect my daughter’s special day. Luckily, we were able to go into the house and retrieve a few things—most importantly her graduation dress and gown. That brought a sense a normalcy to all of us during a very surreal time,” explained Giovanni.

Fast forward to today, with the help of neighbors who helped with repairs, the Tate Family is enjoying their refurbished home with plans to volunteer for the Red Cross. “The Red Cross was a real blessing. I want to be there for someone in their moment of need,” said Giovanni.

The angels on the phone who met with Giovanni and his family that Thursday night were Red Cross volunteers Cathy Dixon and Morrie Bowie. Volunteers are the lifeline of the Red Cross. For disasters big and small, our volunteers provide comfort during what can be the worst days of people’s lives. Thank you, Cathy, and Morrie, for being there for the Tate Family and countless others you have impacted with your compassion.

Learn how you can volunteer at redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Living life to the fullest even with Sickle Cell Disease

“You can’t imagine it unless you’re actually dealing with it.”

Sherrell Johnson was diagnosed with Sickle Cell disease at 6 months old, a blood disorder that affects about 100,000 people in the United States- most of which are of African descent. But before the diagnosis, her mother faced months of a screaming, crying baby that doctors dismissed as being just that- a fussy baby.

After more medical visits, it was determined that she had Sickle Cell, a disease 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 called a “pain crisis,” respiratory conditions, organ failure and even stroke.

Even with the diagnosis, Sherrell’s mother didn’t know much about Sickle Cell disease and her daughter faced a childhood full of being in and out of the hospital as the family tried to care for Sherrell as best as they could with the limited information available to them.

Originally from Chicago, Sherrell attended Western Illinois University for college and remembers a particularly cold day when she was in so much pain she couldn’t make it to the dorm dining hall and ended up back in the hospital where she was misdiagnosed with bronchitis. For the rest of her college career, Sherrell found herself being hospitalized about once a semester.

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. It was during college that she started having more frequent blood transfusions to help ease the tremendous pain caused by Sickle Cell.

In her junior year of college, a bone infection forced her to temporarily use a wheelchair and triggered even more pain crises. At this point, Sherrell was getting transfused every single month and continues to get transfusions today. Living with Sickle Cell has made nearly every aspect of her life more challenging and prevented her from doing some things she loves, like traveling.

Through the ups and downs of having Sickle Cell, Sherrell has had to learn how to carry on with her life in spite of the pain she’s feeling. This was especially difficult while working in the retail industry with long hours on her feet and doing very physical work. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she faced more misunderstanding from her peers and colleagues and had a rough turn with the virus when she caught it herself, being already immunocompromised. Even with Sickle Cell holding her back, she’s proud of what she’s accomplished in her life already and continues to work to raise awareness about the disease through her own brand, Sickle Cell Diva.

“I just want people to know that they may not even know when someone has it,” Sherrell said. “We’re living our lives to the fullest and not letting Sickle Cell control us.”

Today at age 43, she is living in Orland Park and happily working full-time remotely for Discover Financial but still gets sick and finds herself back in the hospital 2 or 3 times a year and still needs blood transfusions every few months. Even with advancements in medications, blood transfusions continue to be a critical treatment for her and others with Sickle Cell. For many patients, a close blood type match is essential and is found in donors of the same race or similar ethnicity so having a diverse blood supply is important so it’s there for patients when they need it. Having blood available helps patients like Sherrell live life to the fullest.

“Don’t count us out,” she said. “I think people count us out too much. We’re more than our diagnosis.”

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Holly Baker

Young journalist strives to share her story and others’ through lifetime battle with Sickle Cell disease

“How I explain Sickle Cell to people is other people’s blood cells are shaped like circles and mine are shaped like Cs,” Tiffani Jackson explains while reflecting on her life living with Sickle Cell Anemia (SS.) 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.

Tiffani is originally from Detroit and was diagnosed at birth with the disease as both of her parents carried the Sickle Cell trait. It ended up greatly interfering with most of her childhood; being in and out of the hospital frequently, missing a lot of school, facing bullying from peers who did not understand, and the constant fear and pain that comes with having the disease.

The extended hospital stays and uncomfortable school environment ultimately led Tiffani to be homeschooled until she enrolled at Grambling State University in Louisiana. She planned to pursue her degree and also enjoy the benefits of living in a warmer climate than Michigan as cold temperatures often contributed to her ending up in the hospital in a pain crisis. Conversely, being dehydrated in the Louisiana heat also created health problems for Tiffani, coupled with the stress of college and everyday life.

It was during her college days that she started receiving oxygen and blood transfusions as a treatment for Sickle Cell which is one of the most critical treatments for people living with the disease, for which there is no cure. For many patients, a close blood type match is essential and is found in donors of the same race or similar ethnicity.

“Blood transfusions are really the thing that helped me stay out of the hospital for a while,” she said, counting at least seven instances of needing blood during that time.

Through the many hospitalizations and obstacles that come with living with Sickle Cell disease, Tiffani continued to beat the odds and have big goals for her life regardless of what doctors told her.

“Its hard for a person with Sickle Cell to dream big because you’re told you might not live long. You have so many restrictions, but your drive has to be bigger than people’s estimations on your life,” she said.

After transferring to Illinois State University, Tiffani got involved in her major of Journalism by joining the campus newspaper and even created her own news outlet: Onyx Connect with the goal of sharing positive stories about people of color. Her entrepreneurial spirit got her noticed by NPR, who recruited her as a paid student intern. Tiffani worked multiple jobs, juggled school and dealt with her Sickle Cell disease, even working on her laptop from a hospital bed if she had to.

Her real-world work experience ultimately helped her land a full-time job as a culture, diversity, and inclusion reporter with the State Journal-Register in Springfield, IL even before graduating in the Spring of 2022.

Now at age 24, and still dealing with Sickle Cell disease, she’s determined to continue pursuing her dreams.

“I have this mindset that regardless of what I have, I have my mind made up on what I’m going to do….and having that mindset is what got me to where I am right now.”

She plans to continue growing her journalistic skills and dreams of building her own collegiate news network to inspire young African American students and share their stories no matter what challenges they face.

“I hope that my journey with Sickle Cell inspires other people who have it to aim higher regardless of what other people say.”

The American Red Cross has launched a new national initiative to reach more blood donors who are Black to help patients with sickle cell disease.

The Red Cross asks members of the Black community to join with us and our partners to help meet the needs of patients with sickle cell disease and other medical conditions to improve health outcomes. Please take action today and schedule a blood donation appointment by visiting RedCrossBlood.org, downloading the Blood Donor App or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

Written by Illinois Red Cross Communications Manager Holly Baker

Volunteers utilize Motorola communications equipment to increase radio connectivity across the region

Volunteers with the American Red Cross of Illinois recently breathed new life into some nearly-forgotten communications equipment in the Illinois River Valley.

After last summer’s tornado in the Woodridge/Naperville area, a gap in communication services was identified when many systems went offline during the response to that disaster. Though it has been off for many years members of the Disaster Workforce Technology team updated the Red Cross Repeater system, a Motorola CDR500, at the Wheaton Center to have additional communication services in the area.

The volunteers worked on the system for about four hours; tuning the radios, replacing cables, and tuning the cavity system. They also installed a temporary antenna system bringing the 20-year-old system back into full working order. Now in blue or gray sky operations, the system will allow Red Cross and emergency management officials to continue communicating no matter the situation.

Coordinating the Response: Laura Templeton

Laura Templeton is a volunteer for the American Red Cross in the South Central Illinois chapter.

Laura started volunteering with the Red Cross in November 2009 and became a duty officer on the disaster response team, a couple of years later.

Duty officers play a key role in our disaster response operations. Laura enjoys coordinating the response after a disaster.

“I like speaking with the first responders and verifying the information, getting a description of the damage, then calling the volunteer responders. It’s gratifying to be able to coordinate the whole thing and just be able to get assistance to our clients. I feel passionate about it.”
-Laura Templeton

Laura adds that facilitating canteen requests for firefighters and other first responders during disaster response situations is something she enjoys doing, as part of her duty officer role.

90% of the Red Cross workforce are volunteers. To join Laura as a duty officer, or to find another opportunity with us, visit redcross.org/volunteer and browse the volunteer opportunities.

As for activities in her free time, Laura enjoys hiking and traveling, but more than that, “I love interacting with friends and going out for a cup of coffee. That’s my favorite thing,” she says.

Thank you, Laura for all you do!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen