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

Inspired by Heartbreak: Savannah’s Story

Savannah Creighton’s daughter, Wheeler unexpectedly passed away at the age of five years old in October 2021, after having surgery for an eye ailment.

This was devastating news, and Savannah wanted Wheeler’s legacy to live on. Savannah says, Wheeler’s cartilage and tissue went to approximately a dozen different states to help others. In addition, through a corneal transplant, a young man in his 30s was able to regain his eyesight.

Savannah had donated blood once before, but decided she was going to start donating regularly, after seeing the positive impact her daughter’s life was making on others and knowing how donated blood can make a big difference to those who need it.

“I give blood to help others. Just the fact that you get to help people and save lives is the reason to give blood. You never know, it could be your child or you who needs it.”
-Savannah Creighton

Savannah has O negative blood, the most common blood type used for transfusions when the blood type is unknown. She uses the Red Cross Blood Donor App to make her appointments.

“I love the fact that you get to see where your blood goes in the app,” she said. “Just knowing you helped someone is really exciting and makes you feel good. I absolutely will continue donating blood.”

Thank you, Savannah for giving blood! Visit to make an appointment.

Written by Illinois Region 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

A Second Chance at Life: Erin’s Story

“You just never know when it’s going to make a difference in someone’s life. Don’t hesitate to give blood. It’s such a worthwhile thing to do, and it can be life-saving – it saved my daughter’s life. People need blood.”
-Stephanie Brown

Stephanie Brown knew something wasn’t right. Her newborn daughter, Erin, was listless and rarely opening her eyes. Stephanie asked her pediatrician to run a blood test.

This particular blood test was familiar to Stephanie. She had worked as a lab tech at Duke University Medical Center’s neonatal unit, and the outcome often times was not a good one, in these types of scenarios.

The blood test confirmed what Stephanie had feared. Erin’s bilirubin level was 22, which is considered extremely high and dangerous. It was higher than any level Stephanie had seen, during her professional experience. Brain damage for Erin was a possibility at that moment; the condition also carried potentially fatal consequences.

Neither Stephanie nor her husband had a matching blood type. That’s when donated blood changed the narrative.

“Nobody’s blood matched hers, so we had to get emergency blood, said Stephanie. “Thank God someone had donated some A negative blood, and that’s when she got the total transfusion at four days old. It was a lot to go through.”

Erin stayed five days in the hospital after the blood transfusion, but the blood products used in that transfusion were instrumental in turning things around for her.

“It was truly an emergency. If we had waited any longer, who knows? We had a great outcome, but it didn’t have to go that way. If that blood wasn’t available, it wouldn’t have gone that way,” said Stephanie.

Now, Erin is a successful television news broadcaster, healthy and thankful for the people who chose to give the blood that helped save her life.

“Everyone deserves a chance to live. Blood donation can give someone that second chance at life, whether that’s a sick baby, or a cancer patient or someone who got into an accident,” she said. “We deserve a chance to live our lives and be the people we’re supposed to be.”

Erin understands some people are hesitant to give blood, but offers her real-life example of why it is so important to do so.

“A number for some people isn’t enough for them to take that step to donate blood, but there are people and families behind those numbers. In my situation, there was a really traumatized and heartbroken mom. I wouldn’t want any parent to go through that, and I definitely wouldn’t want any parent to experience what could have been my outcome, if that blood were not available.”
-Erin Brown

Visit to find a blood donation appointment near you. Thank you for giving the gift of blood!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

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

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

World Blood Donor Day: Gary’s Story

When you hear about the need for blood, what do you think about?

United States Air Force Major Gary Novak (Retired) thinks about the times he cared for wounded soldiers, while flying thousands of feet in the air and having no time to wait for administering lifesaving blood.

Major Novak completed several tours as a Critical Care Flight Nurse for the Air Force Nurse Corps. His dedication and talents helped keep injured service members alive, as did the blood kept on board the aircraft.

We always made sure we took blood with us. A lot of the patients, we had to give so much blood to keep them alive. I saw such a need for that and, because of that, I just feel it’s my duty now to give blood.”
-Major Gary Novak

Major Novak went on to a career as a nurse and continued to see the need for blood on a daily basis. He regularly donates blood, and recently did so at the Danyel Pitts blood drive in Springfield.

He says, “You just never know. The blood you give may save somebody’s life that you know and love. It’s always good to help out where you can.”

Thank you, Major Novak for your brave and selfless service to our country, and for giving the gift of lifesaving blood!

If you would like to give blood, please visit

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen

Giving Blood for the First Time

“I had never donated blood before. I was a little nervous, but I feel good, now.”
-Nahum Rabin

24-year-old Nahum Rabin is a Springfield, Illinois resident and recently gave blood for the first time at a local American Red Cross blood drive. His friend had suggested giving blood, after doing so numerous times herself.

“She was just telling me about donating blood; she’s done it a few times in the past,” said Rabin. “After she told me about it, I realized it does help people and it is something good to do, to give back to the community. I decided to do it.”

When asked if he would consider a repeat visit to give blood in the future, here was Rabin’s reply:

“For sure, I would definitely do it again, especially if it could help somebody. It felt like I was only in there for 10 minutes, tops. I’m young, I have enough blood. It’s always good to help somebody.”

Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs blood. If you have never donated blood before, here are some resources for you, and a look at what to expect when you go to donate.

Visit to make an appointment at a blood drive or blood collection facility near you. Thank you to Nahum and all who give the gift of lifesaving blood!

Written by Illinois Region Communications Manager Brian Williamsen