Loves Park Woman Fights Rare Heart Condition with Help from Illinois Red Cross

Four years ago, Brenda Hill was working hard at a job she absolutely loved. She worked in the billing department at Metro Medical Services, an ambulance company in Loves Park, IL, a neighboring town to Rockford. It’s a company, she says, that felt like family.

That same year, 2016, Brenda began volunteering at the Red Cross, even getting certified in CPR. She was happy and healthy. At 57 years old, she went to the gym three days a week, mowed her grass often, but by August of 2016, she could hardly get through her lawn without feeling short of breath. That’s when she started having health issues.

She was originally misdiagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and underwent six months of chemo. By January of 2017, she was diagnosed with a rare heart condition called Cardiac Amyloidosis, a condition where your body makes too much protein, attaching to vital organs. It stiffens the heart so it can’t pump. Only One out of 5,000 people are diagnosed with it.

Brenda says, “I remember saying to my doctor, ‘Well at least I don’t have cancer.’ And she said, ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but you probably wish you had’.”

One month later, would be a day she’ll never forget. Brenda says she woke up with horrible stomach pain and began throwing up blood. Immediately, she called her team at Metro. They came lights and siren to take her in the ambulance to the hospital. She arrived at the ER, and woke up three days later, intubated. She went into cardiac arrest, twice, and couldn’t walk.

The Red Cross was there to help save her life, as she received six units of blood.

“If I didn’t have blood, I would’ve died,” Brenda says. “I have a strong faith, but if you look at the big picture, I would’ve died.”

Today, Brenda gets chemo every two weeks, to keep the protein levels in check. She says that most people with Cardiac Amyloidosis often don’t make it more than 10 years. Some don’t make it past a year.

“It’s hard living with a terminal disease,” Brenda says. “I look at things differently. I always tried to be a decent human being. Now, I try to give back. Everything means so much more, time spent with my grandchildren, my kids, my friends.

“It (an illness like this) messes with your head, and you have to be really strong to not let it get you down and to try to maintain as much normalcy as you can,” Brenda says. “I wake up each day and thank God each day that I’m awake.”

Talking to her, you can tell her faith plays a major role in her outlook on life. She says her pastors and counselors have helped her through it. Her children and grandchildren are who she lives for.

While she can no longer volunteer on site, she’s stayed busy during the coronavirus pandemic, sewing masks for people and assisting the Red Cross, from home, in any way she can. This also includes administrative work for the American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois.

“From the moment I met Brenda, I felt the warmth and sincerity of her spirit,” says Leslie Luther, Executive Director of American Red Cross of Northwest Illinois. “She is a grateful and proud recipient of the Red Cross blood products. It was for this reason she wanted to give back to the Red Cross. I couldn’t ask for a more compassionate person willing to help wherever needed.”

Once the coronavirus pandemic slows, Brenda plans to continue speaking to medical schools about Cardiac Amyloidosis, to help educate future doctors on the disease. This week, she’ll attend the Brenda Hill Red Cross Blood Drive, in Rockford, on June 30th, and hopes to encourage those who are healthy to donate blood. It saved her life, and it could save others, too.

“There’s always someone that’s worse off than I am, that’s going through 10 times what I am,” Brenda says. “So, I try to be humble and grateful for what I have.”

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

American Red Cross Always There in Times of Need: Meet a Volunteer Behind our Lifesaving Mission

Emergencies don’t stop, neither does the American Red Cross. To carry out our mission, we rely on dedicated volunteers who are committed to serving others in time of need.    

Let me introduce you to Betty Jumonville, R.N., who for nearly 30 years, has dedicated her life to the service of others as a volunteer with the Red Cross. She began volunteering with the Adams County Chapter in Quincy, Illinois in the early 1990s.  Betty first joined as a board member and Blood Services volunteer and later joined disaster operations as a member of the Disaster Action Team, providing assistance to families affected by home fires and other disasters.  Betty along with her husband, the late Dr. Alcee Jumonville, responded to many disasters locally and nationally, including the Great Flood of 1993.

As a Red Crosser, Betty continues to wear many hats! She has educated families about fire safety through our, Sound the Alarm Campaign. Betty is the Chapter Disaster Health Services Lead and Regional and National Disaster Health Deployment Coach, training health workers who are new to the Red Cross. She is also a Disaster Health Services Instructor, teaching Blessing-Rieman College Student Nurses about the process involved in helping people affected by disasters and have a better understanding of deploying as a healthcare worker.

Through Betty’s experiences with many different activities at the Red Cross, she is able to mentor other volunteers and new paid staff, one of them being myself.  I find her to be a valuable resource because she is always willing to share her knowledge and experience. 

Betty has an inspirational story of help and hope.  She graciously devotes her time to further the Red Cross mission every day. “It sounds selfish, but my Red Cross work helps me as much as it helps others,” she stated.

Thank you, Betty for your many years of service and loyalty to the Red Cross.  Working with you is a privilege.

Interested in becoming a volunteer like Betty?  Visit redcross.org/local/illinois/volunteer to find opportunities to support people affected by disasters big and small.

Written by Red Cross Volunteer, Pam Shaffer

Feeding Bloomington-Normal: American Red Cross of Illinois teams up with United Way of McLean County to feed thousands during coronavirus pandemic

The American Red Cross has been a longtime partner of United Way, dating back to the 1950s. So, when they saw an opportunity to jump in and help feed thousands in the Bloomington-Normal community during the coronavirus pandemic, they didn’t waste a minute. The American Red Cross of Illinois is assisting, logistically, to feed folks, offering their vehicles and volunteers to help pick up food from stores, pack food in warehouses and deliver it where it needs to go.  

With the help of the American Red Cross of Illinois, United Way of McLean County (UWMC) has established a successful COVID-19 Community Care Fund, addressing urgent needs. Food access and food insecurity were two of the biggest issues. Since March 30th, UWMC and existing initiatives in the community have provided meals to school district food programs, including five school districts, purchasing over 900 pounds of fresh produce from local farms for LeRoy, Unit 5, Lexington, Olympia and Ridgeway. They’ve also purchased bread and chicken broth from Meijer and Kroger to help feed over 500 families a week.

Lynda Hruska is the Executive Director of the American Red Cross serving Central Illinois. She says this partnership has been impactful to the volunteers.

“It has really been a way for our volunteers to be a part of this incredible work that this team is doing. Often times in a disaster, we’re in the lead role. We’re sheltering, feeding, and in this one, we are using volunteers to plug in to a community-wide project. It’s been very heartwarming to be part of this huge network seeing different people playing different roles and truly making a difference.”

Aside from school food programs, the Red Cross and United Way are partnering with existing initiatives to purchase boxed meals from local restaurants to support their employees and distribute those meals through local non-profits. As of May 8th, they’ve served more than 44,575 meals!

And of course, nothing goes to waste. The Red Cross volunteers go back to the warehouse and pick up any unused perishables and deliver them to Home Sweet Home Mission so they can be utilized without waste.

But UWMC and the Red Cross agree the effort doesn’t stop here. This team has continued to look at not only the initial food insecurity issue, but other human issues that are facing the community as a result of this pandemic. With help from partners in the community, they’ve provided and distributed over 500 food boxes, locally, and more than 300 face masks to distribution volunteers, to keep them safe and protected during this project.

The need continues. The Red Cross is here, and will be here, to help our communities.

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

National Nurses Week: Dan Luthi uses compassionate approach to assist in disaster relief

Dan Luthi, BSN, RN is a volunteer for the American Red Cross of Central Illinois Chapter in the Illinois Region. He serves several critical Red Cross functions to deliver vital services, providing relief and support to those in crisis.

Luthi is a Regional Disaster Action Team Coordinator and dispatch officer who takes both daytime and nighttime shifts. He calls down volunteer teams for disaster response to families and individuals, often for home fires at all times of day and night. He also serves as a responder himself, using his nursing skills as he visits with disaster clients needing health services. In this fiscal year alone, he has responded to 21 disasters. Out of 501 open response cases, Luthi helped on 167 of them. During 2019, he answered 20% of all disaster calls.

Individuals and families are in dire need of care, resources and support during and after these devastating events. Families end up displaced from their homes as a result of these disasters. The Red Cross provides immediate care and support, and with Dan Luthi’s leadership, we are able to carry out our mission with utmost compassion and excellence. His leadership is also a forced multiplier as he trains additional volunteers in response roles that serve all 78 counties within our region.

Luthi has been a Red Cross volunteer since 2013; he is one of the region’s most dedicated volunteers, frequently putting in 20+ hours per week volunteering while still working full time as a pediatric nurse and continuing his education. Since the beginning of 2020 alone, he has already served almost 250 hours of volunteering for the Red Cross.

Dan Luthi started his volunteer career with the Red Cross during a tornado that struck Washington, IL in 2013, assisting in the shelter that was opened.

At the time he was quoted saying, “I’m here because I’m interested in helping my local community. It’s important for me to see that neighbors are taken care of and that they get what they need, whether it is medication or a hug.”

From that point onward, Luthi has dedicated his time, incredible service and talents to serving those in need in his community. But his community has broadened through service to all 78 counties in the region as well as support for volunteers who deploy nationally.

Luthi also acts as a mentor and teacher to Red Cross staff and volunteers. His style of sharing information and knowledge is thorough, contextual and kind.

More recently, Luthi responded to a fire that occurred in a trailer park in Goodfield, IL. Five individuals perished in the fire, including three small children. He responded to the incident with much compassion and worked with the surviving clients for several days to ensure all their health services needs were met. The following month, the trailer park manager requested that the Red Cross come out to be sure that everyone in the park had working smoke alarms. This was an important step to the community’s healing. With Luthi’s ability to be compassionate, professional and thorough, he was the ideal person to send on this important mission. He led a group of Red Cross volunteers who went into the community and installed free smoke alarms.

Dan Luthi was nominated for a Governor’s Award for his service, which he truly deserves, as proven by his extraordinary record of compassionate volunteer services to the people in need in his community and beyond.

During COVID-19, our mission hasn’t changed, but the way we carry out services looks different. Dan is part of that continued effort, serving as the Southern District’s Response Lead. He oversees the responses for COVID-19. He makes sure the team is following protocol by wearing masks, while also preparing exercises to be done. His additional support for Health Services is also valued.

We are always looking for hardworking volunteers to fulfill our mission at the Red Cross. If you’re interested, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Kendra Henson, Regional Volunteer Services Officer Sondra Hayes, Regional Direct Services Program Manager Katelyn Trunnell, Individual & Community Preparedness Manager

National Nurses Week: Tina Johnston Reflects on Four-Decade Journey as Red Crosser

Most people would say 44 years is a long time to be with one company. But for Red Cross Volunteer Nurse, Tina Johnston, her time with the Chicago chapter has been well spent.

She started in 1976 as a staff nurse in Nursing and Health Programs, teaching mother and baby care, supervising student nurses, teaching families how to care for loved ones at home, even blood pressure clinics. After years on staff, she transitioned to a volunteer nursing role, and it’s been that way ever since.

“Hearing stories about nurses that went to war and nurses that did all these wonderful things, I wanted to have a career outside of what seemed to be the careers at the time, which were teaching and secretarial work,” Tina says. “I didn’t want to do either of those things.

Her nursing journey started long before the Red Cross. In 1957, Tina graduated from LA County Hospital’s nursing school in California, got married, and later moved to Washington D.C., earning her bachelor’s degree from Federal City College in 1975. One year later, she and her family moved to Illinois.

“The local hospital would only hire me for nights, and I didn’t want to work nights,” Tina says. “There was an ad for a nurse for the Red Cross, and I applied. I went on an interview and they hired me.”

She hit the ground running with the Disaster Health specialists team. Since then, Tina has traveled across the U.S. and internationally to provide disaster relief, including Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Hurricane Iniki in 1992, the Mississippi floods in 1993, Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, and 9/11. During 9/11, Tina led the health service group that traveled to New York City, working with patients in the hospital and their families. The work included medical care, but personal care as well. She remembers one woman in the hospital asking if anyone could wash her hair, so she could get the grit from the buildings out of it. The Red Cross paid the bill.

Tina says, “It’s about the contact with the clients, their problems, the things they need for us to solve, and being able to reassure them. You get so much variety. You see so many things. The good, the bad and the ugly. But most of the time it’s the good and the very good.”

It may be 44 years since she’s started, but if you know Tina, she isn’t slowing down. Before COVID-19, she was still going into the office two days a week to manage the health service team, organizing trainings, and working from home the rest of the week. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s staying busy, too, with plenty of phone calls at home. Oh, and did we mention she has five grandchildren? She’s very proud.

Four decades as a nurse, you can imagine she’s seen it all, but Tina says being a Red Cross Nurse has opened her eyes to the good in the world.

“There are a lot of really good people in the world, and there are needy people in the world,” Tina says. “And there are needy people that are just as anxious to help other people as they are to get help for themselves.”

The Red Cross is always looking for eager volunteers to fulfill our mission. If you’re interested, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

Written by Hannah Allton, Regional Communications Manager

Through the Heart of a Red Crosser – Blue Sky Efforts – February 2020

The Regional Sheltering Team recently conducted five classes with External Partners in Shelter Training. 

Three local organizations – Benedictine University, Hoffman Estates Emergency Management and the DuPage County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management – reached out to the Red Cross and requested Shelter Training for their people.

Five Red Cross Instructors over the last month – traveled out to their locations and instructed their people in both Shelter Fundamentals and Shelter Operations Simulation.  A total of 120 people were trained in these classes. 

Steve Wise and Lauren Zimmerman (RC Sheltering Instructors) – and Sarah Marcucci / Emergency Management Coordinator for the Village of Hoffman Estates

Such efforts help the Red Cross extend both our Partnerships and our reach in times of need.  If there ever was a local large-scale disaster – there easily could be the need to stand up numerous Shelters across the Greater Chicago and Northern IL Region.      

A big shout out goes to those Red Crossers who helped out with this instruction – Terri Cunningham, Lauren Zimmerman, Jackie Speciale, and Danny Portman.  Thru their efforts – we now have External Partners to call on for Sheltering Assistance.

If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer, please go to redcross.org/volunteer to join us.

This picture was taken at the Shelter Training held at the Hoffman Estates Police Department last Saturday, February 1st. A total of 37 people attended this training.

Written By: Steve Wise, Disaster Volunteer

Marty Knight: A Veteran Who Continues to Serve through Volunteering with the Red Cross

Marty Knight has been a volunteer with the American Red Cross for the over 10 years. However, his experience with the Red Cross goes back to the early 1970s while serving in the United States Navy.

In 1972,  Marty deployed during the Vietnam War aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga and a year later aboard  USS Kitty Hawk, as a jet and engine mechanic working on airplanes and helicopters.

Years later, while onboard USS Kitty Hawk, Marty crossed path with the American Red Cross, “In July of 1979, I was in Pattaya Beach, Thailand when I got the Red Cross message that my son was born in the city of San Diego” says Marty. Even though, he didn’t get to meet his son until February of 1980, Marty was very grateful to the Red Cross for letting him know that both, his wife and son were doing well.

Copy of the message the Red Cross sent to Marty Knight in 1979 notifying him of the birth of his son

However, this wouldn’t be the last time that Marty was going to hear from the Red Cross. While still on duty, he remembers receiving notification from the American Red Cross that one of the members of his squad needed to return home on emergency leave. “…we started the paperwork and a few minutes later the Red Cross called back to ask if he needed travelling money and I said yes…and so they gave him travel money, which I thought it was very nice of the Red Cross,” recalls Marty.

In 2001, Marty’s wife was gravely ill with cancer and once more the Red Cross was there to assist the family, helping his son, who was serving in the U.S. Navy, come home on emergency leave to be by his mother’s side.

Marty credits this familiarity and personal experience with the work of the Red Cross that prompted him to become a volunteer.  As a Red Crosser, Marty has been able to provide support to other veterans, delivering supplies from the Red Cross to a Veterans Home in Manteno whenever possible, adding that he does whatever he can to make their lives better.

As a member of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, Marty responds to home fires, providing comfort and assistance to families during their toughest moments. He has also deployed multiple times during major disasters to help with relief efforts. Last year, Marty deployed to Alabama to assist with logistics in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, “I was distributing supplies like shovels, rakes and water to people,” explains Marty.

Marty during his deployment to Alabama in 2018

His past deployments also include North Carolina and New Jersey after Hurricanes Florence and Sandy, respectively. Both times, Marty assisted with mass feeding in Red Cross shelters and drove an Emergency Response Vehicle to bring food to those in the affected areas.

Marty is one of the many veterans who are making a positive impact in their communities through their volunteering with the American Red Cross, being there for others in time of need, lending a helping hand and shoulder to lean on.  Thank you, Marty, for your service and for supporting the mission of the Red Cross.

If you like to know more about the American Red Cross Service to the Armed Forces click here.

To find out more information about volunteering with the American Red Cross here.

Written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Marketing & Communications Manager

Isamar Moctezuma: Recruiting Volunteers for Those in Need

Born in Illinois and raised in Mexico until the age of 12, Isamar Moctezuma came to the Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois two years ago. As Senior Recruitment Specialist for Volunteer Services, Isamar is responsible for recruiting new volunteers and bring awareness about the American Red Cross.

Isamar Moctezuma

For Isamar working for the Red Cross was a natural choice, “Something that appealed to me in the Red Cross is that we train our volunteers to take the services that we have and trainings that we have and share them within the community…helping to build stronger communities.”

Isamar is also a member of the Red Cross Latino Outreach committee, and as part of this effort, she helps educate the Latino community about the Red Cross and the services the organization has to offer.

Being able to speak Spanish has allowed Isamar to bring comfort to people affected by disasters as was the case with evacuees from Puerto Rico arriving in Chicago.  During her second week with the Red Cross, Isamar was one of many Red Cross staff and volunteers providing comfort and information to those who came to Chicago seeking refuge after Hurricane Maria, “ It was very impactful to see what the Red Cross does by being there, supporting them,” remembers Isamar. Adding that just being able to communicate with someone in Spanish meant so much for the evacuees after being through such a stressful event in their lives.

At the end of our interview we talk about Hispanic Heritage Month, and the importance of this celebration for her. I am not surprised when Isamar reminds me how proud she is of her Latino roots, and all that Latinos have overcome and accomplished. She concludes by encouraging other Latinos to get involve with organizations like the American Red Cross to help their communities better understand of the mission of the Red Cross.

If you would like to learn more about volunteering for the American Red Cross, you can find more information here.

Written by Isis Chaverri, Regional Marketing & Communications Manager

Local SAF volunteers support “The Moving Wall” exhibit for veterans

Over the weekend, the last weekend in September, volunteers with Services to the Armed Forces of the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois teamed up with Disaster Mental Health volunteers to support “The Moving Wall” exhibit at the Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.

Moving Wall 3

“The Moving Wall” is a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., and it has toured the U.S. since 1984. The exhibit serves as a way for those who cannot travel to Washington D.C. to still pay tribute to all veterans- especially Vietnam War veterans. Two Moving Wall exhibits travel the U.S. from April through November, spending a week at each site.

Moving Wall 1

American flags, 1,587 of them, were placed at Queen of Heaven Cemetery, with each one representing a military member who is Missing in Action. In addition, 50 state flags were placed to indicate that the service members displayed on the wall were from all 50 states in the U.S.

Moving Wall 2

Valerie Moreno-Tucker, an SAF volunteer, wore a POW MIA bracelet that she received in college to the exhibit. As Valerie was offering mental health support to local veterans she was able to find the name of the service member that was on her bracelet on the wall. She says the experience was very touching for her and the other volunteers to be part of such a powerful remembrance.

moving-wall-4.jpg

The Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) program dates back to the establishment of the American Red Cross by Clara Barton in May 1881. Not only did the “Angel of the Battlefield” risk her life tending to soldiers wounded in the Civil War, she bolstered their morale by writing letters for them to send to their families. Today’s American Red Cross workers proudly carry on this tradition through the SAF program, which serves as a critical line of communication between the U.S Armed Forces and their families.

Learn more about the American Red Cross Services to the Armed Forces here.

Written by Services to the Armed Forces Regional Specialist Kelsey Smith

In Loving Memory of Nancy Brooks Edison, Dedicated 60 Year Red Cross Volunteer

In Loving Memory of Nancy Brooks Edison, Dedicated 60 Year Red Cross Volunteer

The American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois is deeply saddened to share that longtime volunteer Nancy Brooks Edison has passed away. In Chicago, disasters and fires happen at all hours of the day and night. Thankfully, there are always Red Cross volunteers ready and on-call to respond. One of those volunteers was Nancy, a nationally recognized life-long Red Cross volunteer who answered the phone time after time to help people as a nurse and health services volunteer. Nancy was still on-call as a health services volunteer as recently as last month.

Nancy Brooks Edison

Nancy first heard of the Red Cross on the radio when she was 5 years old. She listened to reports of the work volunteers were doing to help the relief effort during World war II and it made a lifelong impression. She started volunteering for the Red Cross at just 18-years- old as a water safety instructor and later became a nurse and health services volunteer.

Nancy receiving her Hero medal at the 2014 Chicago Red Cross Heroes Breakfast

Nancy continued volunteering for her whole life, always ready to roll up her sleeves and be part of the efforts to help others. She has provided front line support during countless disasters, helping families cope with loss after a home fire, flood or tornado. Her skills and calm demeanor have brought comfort to hundreds of families for six decades and helped put them back on the road to recovery.

Nancy’s volunteering won her many honors through the years, including being recognized as the 2014 Chicago Red Cross Disaster Services Hero. In 2018, ABC-7 Chicago recognized her as making “Chicago Proud” when she achieved 60 years as a Red Cross volunteer.

Over her time as a Red Cross volunteer, Nancy participated in relief efforts for hundreds of disasters, including 12 national responses including deployments to Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. But even when disasters big and small struck locally, Nancy was there to help provide health services including replacing medications, eyeglasses, canes and more.

Her positive and happy demeanor was a joy to the Red Cross and she will be greatly missed. Thank you, Nancy.

Nancy’s memorial will be held on September 28, 2019 at 3PM at Edgebrook Church at 6355 N Spokane Avenue in Chicago, IL.

Nancy Brooks Edison, 01/09/1940 – 09/13/2019