Where Your Blood Goes After You Donate

In the Chicago Red Cross office, there is a poster stretching down the length of a wall. On the right side of the poster, printed in white text on a red background, a paragraph tells the story of Amy. At the age of ten, Amy was told that she had leukemia. As she battled this, she went to chemotherapy every six weeks. Also during this time, Amy received over 100 pints of blood from donors to help as she fought the disease.

Heidi Reed sits in a chair after her donation

When people donate blood to the Red Cross, it can be easy to forget the impact that their blood is having. Volunteers give their blood at a blood drive, and once the drive ends, the Red Cross packs up and leaves. The donors walk away and continue on with their normal day, and they do not get to see where their blood has gone or, more importantly, to whom. Part of the nobility of blood donation is that those giving blood, without knowing where their blood will go or whom it will help, give anyways.

At the Chicago Red Cross building, I learned about the great lengths the Red Cross takes to maintain the integrity of their blood services branch.

For instance, after donation, donated blood is given a unique identification number, and samples of the blood are sent to a national testing center. There, the Red Cross catalogs the blood type of the donation and ensures that it is pure of disease. While the sample is being tested, the donation is spun in a centrifuge and divided into three parts: The red cells, the platelets, and the plasma. Each of these three can be donated to different people for different situations. In this way, one blood donation can save the lives of three people. Once the testing center confirms that the donation is free of disease, it is delivered to a hospital, where it is given to people who need it.

Nicole Thompson finishes her donation

Every two seconds, someone in America needs blood. This could be a mother experiencing complications in childbirth, a car accident victim, or someone, like Amy, who require regular blood transfusions to battle cancer. Donations save these people. Donations saved Amy.

After many rounds of chemotherapy and many transfusions, Amy defeated cancer. She has been cancer-free for almost twenty years now, is married, and has a son. “I hope people realize that blood and platelet donations cannot only help a patient in need, but can have an impact on future generations,” she once said. “My family and I are living proof of that.”

It is unlikely that any of the people who donated to Amy know of the effect that they have had. And Amy is not alone. Everyday, there are people who require blood to survive, people who have been diagnosed with cancer, or undergo a medical emergency. It is donations from normal people with normal lives, who may never meet the people they donate to, that save lives.

To all of our blood donors, thank you.

Written by Gordon White, American Red Cross Communications Intern

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Remembering Bonnie Knight

The Red Cross of Chicago would like to share loving memories of Bonnie Knight, who passed away Friday, March 30, of this year. Bonnie Knight was an exceptional volunteer who served alongside her husband, Marty Knight, since 2010. She originally focused on disaster relief but quickly transitioned into volunteering in the Services to the Armed Forces (SAF) department, her true passion.

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Bonnie is pictured here with her husband, Marty, volunteering at the Manteno Veterans Home.

 

Bonnie and Marty went above and beyond in their participation in the SAF program. Each month, they drove 140 miles round-trip from their home to the Chicago Military Entrance Processing Station. There, they spoke with newly enlisted service members and the members’ families. They prepared soldiers for the difficulties of entering the military, and also prepared families for a life where their loved one has moved away from home and into the armed forces. They also taught the families how to use the Red Cross emergency communication service in the event of an emergency at home.

Bonnie and Marty served as SAF Leads for the Manteno Veterans Home and Prince Home, a position that included shopping with veterans for items like winter clothing. Bonnie also volunteered as a Site Lead at the 2017 Warrior Games, where wounded Service Members participate in athletic events.

As Bonnie’s health grew worse, she maintained an indomitable passion and a positive outlook on life. Michelle McSweeney, formerly with the SAF program, said, “We often got pictures of Bonnie and Marty with the veterans while they were passing out the items, and every person – especially the veterans – has a beaming smile on their faces. Bonnie always had such a bright and positive personality and smile on her face.”

Thank you, Bonnie, for helping us serve our military, their families, and veterans. Your service will not be forgotten.

Learning how to save a life

Learning how to save a life

One of the best things you can do to prepare yourself for an emergency is to get CPR certified. As a Red Cross intern, I could see different classes being set up and knew that this was definitely an opportunity I should take advantage of.  My high school had required me to get certified as a freshman, but that was almost eight years ago, and my current medical understanding was largely based on fictional medical TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy. I realized that was far from sufficient and began to worry that I would find myself in a life or death situation with no idea what to actually do. So, after looking through the available classes, I signed up for the Adult and Pediatric First Aid/CPR/AED class at the Red Cross’ 2200 W Harrison location.

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The class was scheduled for a cold Tuesday morning in March. When I got there, I found a classroom with around a dozen people from a variety of professions and backgrounds, paper packets, and a DePaul grad student named Kelly as my instructor. Over the next five and a half hours the class covered how to respond to a wide variety of different medical emergencies. With so much information in one day I was a little worried about getting overwhelmed and retaining everything. However, that was not the case at all. The combination of instructional videos, interactive exercises and practice on CPR dummies made everything easily digestible and memorable.

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I cannot recommend taking the CPR/AED training enough. In just a few hours, you’ll learn how to react to emergencies ranging from a sprained ankle to cardiac arrest. I left the class with a newfound confidence and sense of preparedness. Signing up takes five minutes or less. Just go to www.redcross.org/courses to find the class and location that best suits you. You never know when you’ll be the person others look to in an emergency. You could be the one to step up and save a life.

Written by Hannah Nicholson, Communications & Marketing intern for the American Red Cross of Chicago & Northern Illinois

Mr. Nasir Bin Zakaria Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Global Citizenship Hero

Mr. Nasir Bin Zakaria Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Global Citizenship Hero

“We can do so many things when we are organized,” said Nasir Bin Zakaria, reflecting on what he has achieved in Chicago by creating a community space for Rohingya refugees for learning, healing and advocating.

The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority in Myanmar. As a young Rohingya child growing up in Myanmar, Bin Zakaria and his family were in physical danger. He faced discrimination when he was finally able to attend school and the one constant in life was a sense of unpredictability. Over half a million Rohingya refugees have fled violence in Myanmar according to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

At the age of 14, Bin Zakaria was captured by the military, driven to the middle of the jungle and narrowly escaped. “I had never been in the jungle before, but I escaped the group and found the energy to run so fast for so long,” said Bin Zakaria. “I knew I couldn’t go back because the soldiers would kill me.” After a long journey through Bangladesh and Thailand and more than 15 years living in Malaysia, Bin Zakaria connected with the UNHCR to request refugee status. The application process required background checks and five interviews, but after seven years, his refugee status was approved. He arrived in Chicago in August 2013.

“If I could build one place, it would be easy to help everyone at once. Like a village. Our village,” said Bin Zakaria.

As a newly arrived refugee, getting a foothold on life in the United States was difficult. “I felt nervous because I wouldn’t be able to keep up if I wasn’t educated,” said Bin Zakaria, who had attended only a few years of school. He was losing sleep over the losses he had experienced and the challenges of integrating into a new place – and he knew he wasn’t alone in these feelings. Rogers Park on Chicago’s north side is home to about 400 Rohingya families, the largest Rohingya population in the country.

“If I could build one place, it would be easy to help everyone at once. Like a village. Our village,” said Bin Zakaria. In 2016, with the support of the Zakat Foundation, he opened the Rohingya Culture Center where individuals can go to speak their own language with those who understand them and receive vital support during their difficult journey. “It is amazing. Everyone is coming to us to process their trauma – to cry together, to pray together – because we have a place,” said Bin Zakaria.

Bin Zakaria established more than a meeting place. He created a platform for teaching others about the struggle of refugees and the Rohingya people. At a 2017 press conference at the Rohingya Culture Center organized by Bin Zakaria, Sen. Dick Durbin and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky met with him and members of the cultural center, spoke about a recent fact-finding trip they took to Myanmar and learned more about the atrocities that Bin Zakaria and others like him experienced.

Bin Zakaria is amazed at what is possible when people come together like they have at the Rohingya Culture Center. “With everyone’s support, we can do anything,” said Bin Zakaria.

The Global Citizenship Award is presented to an individual(s) who volunteered or worked to meet the needs of the world’s potentially vulnerable populations by building safer, more resilient communities and providing needed relief.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2018 Heroes. For more information about the 2018 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

 

Miss Charmin BoClaire Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Youth Hero

Miss Charmin BoClaire Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Youth Hero

At only 9-years-old, Charmin BoClaire became a hero to her entire family when she used the fire safety training she learned in school to quickly and safely evacuate her family from their burning home in October 2017.

Charmin was in the kitchen when the fire started. She saw her Mom’s legs catch on fire and rushed to bring her a blanket to douse the flames. Then, she hurried to get her 8-month-old brother, who has Down syndrome, and her 4-year-old sister, out of the house. Her sister was in the shower and didn’t want to leave because she wasn’t dressed, but Charmin wrapped her in a towel and urgently convinced her to go outside with her brother. Charmin then ran back inside the burning home to get her Mom, who was struggling with her wounds.

 … Charmin stepped up and took control in the unexpected situation, getting her siblings to safety and motivating her Mom to go outside with her, saying “You have to get up and get out. I’m not leaving you.”

During a house fire, a child’s natural reaction might be fear or bewilderment, said her aunt LaTiffanie Jackson, who explained that Charmin can be very shy. But, Charmin stepped up and took control in the unexpected situation, getting her siblings to safety and motivating her Mom to go outside with her, saying “You have to get up and get out. I’m not leaving you.”

It all happened in just a few moments. But, Charmin was prepared for those moments. Just one week before the fire, she and her classmates attended fire safety training at Nathan Hale Primary School. Charmin said that fire safety is important for everyone, “so they won’t get hurt and they’ll know how to help keep their family safe.”

Jackson, who is caring for the three children while their mother is recovering from injuries, said that Charmin has always been a caretaker for her younger siblings. She’s not surprised that Charmin went into quick action that day.

Charmin is still processing the experience, said her aunt. They lost everything in the house, including the family’s pet cat. Charmin is still focused on the distressing experience but she’s slowly getting more comfortable talking about it. “At first it really upset her to talk about it,” said Jackson, who said that Charmin’s responsibility to her family runs so deep that she sometimes has to remind her to go out to play.

Charmin’s life-saving actions taught her classmates to really pay attention because, even at their young age, “They have the power and the ability to do something amazing,” said Jackson. “Something that changes lives.”

The Youth Award is presented to an outstanding individual(s) who is 17 years old or under and has performed an act of heroism involving an unusual, significant or unexpected incident, or is involved in an ongoing situation in which a commitment is made to the community through acts of kindness, courage, or unselfishness in response to an identified need.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2018 Heroes. For more information about the 2018 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

 

Captain Michael Casagrande Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Firefighter Hero

Captain Michael Casagrande Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Firefighter Hero

As a 41-year veteran firefighter, Michael Casagrande has faced more than 2,000 fires. A Kankakee Fire Department captain, Casagrande is experienced in putting out fires, but knows that fighting fires before they happen is the ultimate battle.

Casagrande, who leads the Fire Prevention Division for the City of Kankakee, is dedicated to fire prevention and education. He has led the installation of more than 10,000 smoke alarms across Kankakee since 2015. This number of installations is extremely significant, given that the city of Kankakee is home to approximately 10,000 households. Casagrande and the Kankakee Fire Department, in partnership with the American Red Cross and through a grant from FEMA, blanketed Kankakee homes with smoke alarms.

As this program was launching in 2015, Casagrande felt particularly shaken by several tragic home fires. That year, four small children died in Kankakee home fires. One of them was a young girl who lost her life when her mother tried to carry both her and a sibling through the fire to the front door, passing possible escape windows. Casagrande knew that fire education paired with working smoke alarms could have prevented this tragedy and would prevent future heart break.

Casagrande and his Fire Prevention Division began educating Kankakee children about fire prevention through programs like the Fire Safety House program. Initially, these school programs targeted children only, however, Casagrande and his team quickly realized that the message also needed to be relayed to parents. Casagrande altered the program to involve parents and continued his quest to install smoke alarms. For the past two years there have been no fire fatalities in Kankakee.

For the past two years there have been no fire fatalities in Kankakee.

According to Casagrande, “It didn’t matter who you are or what your housing situation is, whether you rent or you own, we educated and installed the alarms necessary for all populations in need in the community.” Casagrande’s close relationship to his community was critical to the program’s success. Some of the people served were members of the migrant worker community who do not speak English and were fearful of authority. The team strategized carefully around community needs to ensure every household felt comfortable receiving this life-saving resource.

Casagrande and the Kankakee Fire Department know their program is saving lives. In several cases, the Fire Department uncovered substantial gas leaks during smoke alarm installations which were repaired, averting potentially fatal crises.

In 2017, Marsean Harris and her young family escaped a house fire because of the smoke alarms that Casagrande and his team installed. Harris said, “It was terrible. We woke up to the smoke alarm. By the time we made it out, the house was engulfed in flames. I thank God for those smoke alarms, having two small kids and a baby on the way.” To hear about this family’s story in a video, click here.

The Firefighter Award is presented to a professional, volunteer firefighter(s), or medical personnel related to dispatch operations at a fire department who acted above and beyond the call of duty, exhibiting heroism either in response to an emergency situation or through an ongoing commitment to the community.

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2018 Heroes. For more information about the 2018 Heroes Breakfast, click here.

 

Mr. Roy B. Sartin & Mr. Eli Williamson Honored as American Red Cross 2018 Military Heroes

Roy Sartin and Eli Williamson are kindred spirits. They met in a freshman year Latin class at Kenwood Academy High School and attended Luther College in Iowa. During college, both men enlisted in the Army and deployed overseas to the Middle East.

After years of military service as a staff sergeant in special operations as a psychological operations specialist and an Arabic linguist with deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, Williamson found himself back in Chicago thinking about his next chapter as his student loans came due. Coincidentally, his old friend Sartin had also recently been discharged from his Army Heavy Combat Engineer Reserve unit as a sergeant and was contemplating his new purpose as a civilian. He too was grappling with student loans.

The difference between military and civilian life felt stark. They spent years fostering a very specific skill set to find it underutilized upon their return. And they weren’t alone in this feeling. They found that many veterans had trouble reconnecting with their communities after their service ended and that student debt and underemployment were major burdens for many returning service members.

“When you recognize a problem, your duty as a member of society is to do something about it,” said Sartin.

Sartin and Williamson thought there was a solution to the problem of service members feeling disconnected from their communities and lacking resources upon return. They launched Leave No Veteran Behind in 2008 to invest in veterans to build better communities through retroactive scholarships, transitional jobs and community engagement. Leave No Veteran Behind connects veterans with service opportunities that utilize their unique skill set, all while helping them pay off student debt.

They launched Leave No Veteran Behind in 2008 to invest in veterans to build better communities through retroactive scholarships, transitional jobs and community engagement.

A fantastic example of utilizing veterans’ skills as assets for the community started in 2009, when they partnered with Chicago Public Schools to position veterans on the corner of 35th and Martin Luther King Drive near several schools to help alleviate violence. The veterans, understanding the neighborhood, helped make sure students had a safe experience traveling to and from school each day.

The veterans became known and welcomed in the school area and violence decreased. Because of its success, CPS expanded the program across the city and it became known as The Safe Passage Program. Thanks to Leave No Veteran Behind, more than 700 veterans are helping to keep the children of Chicago safe.

Sartin and Williamson paved the way for other organizations in Chicago to consider the contributions of veterans as vital for our communities. “Helping communities to thrive is work we are all supposed to do,” said Williamson. “We are so glad to see the positive impact of Leave No Veteran Behind, both on the veterans we work with and on our community.”

The Military Award is presented to an active, reserve guard, Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), or veteran member(s) of the Armed Forces, or military supporter, who acted above and beyond the call of duty or have made an ongoing commitment to the community

Follow #RedCrossHeroes on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for updates about the 2018 Heroes. For more information about the 2018 Heroes Breakfast, click here.