Sharing a Lifesaving Message: Kraig’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

129 and Counting: Meet the Top Blood Donor in Illinois

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

The Importance of Donated Blood Products: Ivy’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit to make an appointment to donate.

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

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Serving Others in Several Ways

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Giving After Receiving: Emery’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Illinois Communications Manager Connie Esparza

Giving Blood: David’s Story

“We have a shared humanity, and some other person in a desperate situation is going to need an anonymous blood donor to make it possible for them to regain their health. If it’s a very small thing you can do that can have an enormous effect on someone else’s life, it’s incumbent on you to do so.”
-David Singer

March 2019 was first time David Singer gave blood. It was not his last.

Since then, David has donated more than two gallons of blood, and is now a Power Red donor.

“I was shocked at how non-invasive and quick it was,” said David. “I realized if that’s all it is, and if this is a thing people really need, then why don’t I do it as much as is reasonably possible for me to do it? I found it to be a very minor inconvenience, for me to go spend a small amount of time doing something that can have such a big impact on someone else.”

David urges others to do the same, as there is a constant need for blood products – every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood.

“The need is there. Every one of us believes that should we end up in the hospital, there would be blood available for us if we need it. Those are not reserves we have a limitless supply of. We all need to pitch in and do this.”

As for the time it takes to give blood? David says he barely notices he is there, before his appointment is done and he is on his way.

“It isn’t painful, it doesn’t take a long time. You go in, you fill out a few forms, you lie down and are on your phone for a few minutes and it’s over,” David said. “Everybody should get in the habit of spending 20 minutes every six weeks doing something that takes less time than shopping for groceries, and that has a big result.”

You are needed. To join David as a blood donor, visit and set up an appointment at a location near you. Thank you to David and all blood donors!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Making the Most of His Time: Kaleb Hall

“I feel like it’s good to always help people. If you help people, they’re going to end up helping someone else, and it’s just like a cycle of helping people.”
-Kaleb Hall

Kaleb Hall is a high school senior in Decatur, Illinois. He volunteers for the American Red Cross in the South Central Illinois chapter of the Illinois region.

Having completed the necessary credits to graduate, Kaleb has extra time during this semester and wanted to devote it to doing something productive.

“I only have two classes and get out of school early, so I have more time. I wanted to volunteer my time, instead of just sitting at home watching TV,” Kaleb says. “I have a whole semester of free time, so I am going to be doing this a lot.”

Kaleb’s father, Xavier inspired him to get involved with the Red Cross. Xavier served on the disaster team, installing smoke alarms and performing other tasks as a volunteer.

Recently, Kaleb served as a blood donor ambassador at a Red Cross blood drive in Decatur. He helped sign blood donors in as they arrived for their appointments, provided them with helpful information and answered questions.

Kaleb enjoyed the assignment and is looking forward to getting involved even further, in the weeks and months ahead.

“Everybody is nice, it’s a good environment. There are a lot of options,” he says.

Thank you, Kaleb for choosing to give your time and serve as a Red Cross volunteer! To join Kaleb as a volunteer, visit

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

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, using the Blood Donor App or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager, Connie Esparza

A New Lease on Life: Terry’s Story

Terry Kenney has common variable immunodeficiency, a disorder that impairs her immune system. Blood donations are playing a big role in significantly improving Terry’s health.

Learn more about her story and how you can give blood, in this short video.

Honoring Your Hero Could Help Save a Life

“Statistics show everybody will know somebody who received blood once in their lifetime. We never know what can happen, and the blood need doesn’t stop – patients still have cancer, burn victims are still in the hospital. The only way we can source blood is through volunteer donors.”
-Ellen Emerick

Ellen Emerick is a district manager for the American Red Cross biomedical team in the Illinois region. She is also a member of Heart of Illinois Blue Star Mothers. Her son, Joe Mickels, is a gas turbine systems technician for the U.S. Navy, and he has served our country for six years.

“If we have a new mom who has one of her children that just got deployed, what a great resource to have other moms who have been there and understand and can give them resources, or point them to the Red Cross. It’s a fantastic group of moms who understand,” she says. “I’m really proud to be a Blue Star Mother and to work for the Red Cross.”

Blue Star Mothers and the U.S. Coast Guard are teaming up to host the “Hometown Heroes” blood drive at 101 Holiday St in East Peoria from 1-6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4 in an effort to help bolster the blood supply, and show support to military, emergency services, hospital staff or even neighbors who are there to lend a hand.

Click here to sign up to donate blood at this event.

Ellen says, “This is just another way we can support and honor our local hometown heroes. It’s vital to donate blood.”

Karen Frazier is the Heart of Illinois Blue Star Mothers chapter president. Her son, Christopher served as a specialist in the U.S. Army for four years, including nine months in Afghanistan.

Karen says, “It was my worst nine months, and I needed to find something for camaraderie. No one knows what you go through like another mother. It’s nice to have somebody you can lean on and show you it’s going to be ok. We support each other.”

In addition to supporting each other, her organization supports the mission of the Red Cross.

“I’ve been a blood donor since 1984. It just makes sense – there’s no reason for us not to do it, because we’re moms and this is a way to give back to our community in a bigger, broader aspect. If you can save a life through blood, why wouldn’t you do that?”
-Karen Frazier

Thank you for rolling up a sleeve in honor of your hero. Each blood donation could save a life!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen