Blood donation is deeply rooted by three generations of blood donors

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

The American Red Cross has a constant need for blood and platelet donations. When anyone steps up to donate lifesaving blood it is truly impressive, but when the action spreads over three generations it’s amazing.

Ed and Joanne Schmidt have been regular blood donors since the 1970’s and they donate blood as often as they can. Ed just surpassed his 25th gallon milestone and Joanne has given close to four gallons. The Schmidt’s three adult children and their spouses roll up a sleeve frequently, and most recently, their granddaughter, Gabrielle, who is a senior in high school, began to donate blood – making it truly a family affair.   

“We have always been motivated to donate blood for our family and friends,” said Joanne Schmidt. Many years ago, her mother had pancreatic cancer and required blood transfusions. “It is such a wonderful thing to be able to give blood. It is very rewarding to give back and it gives you a very warm and satisfying feeling just thinking your blood went to help save another person’s life.”

Every day, volunteer blood and platelet donors across the country are needed to help save lives. Blood donors of all ethnicities and blood types are needed to ensure the right blood product is available at the right time.

“If anyone is ever in doubt of donating blood, they should just think about all the lives they could be helping,” said Schmidt. “It doesn’t take very long and is painless. You should never hesitate to give. The Red Cross is such a wonderful organization that does so much for so many people and families who are in need. This world is such a better place with the help from the Red Cross!”

A blood donation appointment takes about an hour from start to finish, but the actual donation itself only takes about 8 to 10 minutes. In most states, individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. There is no upper age limit for blood donation as long as you are well with no restrictions or limitations to your activities.

Eligible individuals are encouraged to schedule a blood or platelet donation appointment by using the Red Cross Blood Donor app, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 800- RED-CROSS (800-733-2767).

 Pictured left to right – Ed, Gabrielle and Brian Schmidt – family of three generations of blood donors who frequently donates blood at the Red Cross Watertown Community Blood Drive.  

Fond du Lac volunteer brings understanding, resources to incarcerated veterans

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

On and around Veterans Day, the American Red Cross will stand with those who served in any number of parades and recognitions. This support is foundational to our mission, dating back to Clara Barton’s experiences on Civil War battlefields.

Away from the public eye and events for Veterans Day, just as much is happening to make sure veterans, service members and their families have the resources they need.

For Red Cross volunteer Racheal Bergmann, that included a visit this week for her monthly session with 10 or so veterans incarcerated at Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution. Inside the walls of a correctional institution, Bergmann said she is able to bring vital, deeply appreciated mental wellness programming to a veteran population whose situation and needs may be overlooked or disregarded.

“There are so many things to look at in terms of why this happens, why they’re incarcerated,” Bergmann said of the veterans who join her sessions at Kettle Moraine. “I feel strongly about the rehabilitation piece. Doing things that are in these programs will help them be successful in the community. It’s why I do it, I want to have people who come out of the prison system who are going to be successful and meaningful contributors to society.”

Bergmann, a Fond du Lac resident, has been a Red Cross volunteer for more than five years, beginning with Disaster Mental Health roles based on her professional and academic background, then transitioning to more participation with veterans from Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) opportunities. Her professional background included casework with inmates at Taycheeda Correctional Institution, and other family members have worked in similar settings in and around her hometown of Waupun. Her daughters have served in the military, one in the Marines, the other in the Air Force. The culmination of this personal and professional experience crystallized a feeling that she could give back to those who served no matter that they were behind bars.

“I think that the general population [outside of jail or prison] and those who aren’t trained or accustomed to military experience, they don’t understand what that is all like. You’re going from one issue of trauma into other issues of trauma, and then into the prison system, where there is more trauma,” she said, later adding, “This is a way … I can serve those who have served.”

Bergmann is one of two Red Cross volunteers who has helped lead these sessions, the other coming under the guidance of long-time SAF and mental health volunteer Curtis Hossman in northwestern Wisconsin at Stanley Correctional Institution. Locally and in other states, the Red Cross has engaged with departments of corrections to identify places and populations where veterans may be able to take advantage of these programs in a safe, meaningful manner. The incarcerated veterans involved in these programs are a small portion of the 3,300 services cases opened last year in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for service members, veterans and military families in need. However, they stand out due to the recognition that all veterans deserve, which is at the heart of the relationship between the Red Cross and the Department of Corrections.

Essentially, these are the same Mind-Body Wellness programs volunteers led in other community sessions with veterans, service members and their families, at anywhere from V.A.s to college campuses to community centers. Bergmann said that in the monthly sessions, the veterans – ranging in ages, military branches and service experiences – are able to attribute more focus to particular areas of the programs. Relaxation exercises, for instance, are a favorite, particularly the moments of meditation. Bergmann noted that mental health resources can be few and far between at correctional institutions. With that insight, she centers lessons on tools these veterans can used while incarcerated – and in building toward positive next steps once they’re released.

“This is another thing that they can do that’s exclusive to them, and they appreciate that piece. In prison, you can’t call a lot of things your own,” she said. “When you have those opportunities, it’s more meaningful.”

For more on the wide range of Service to the Armed Forces programs and volunteer opportunities, visit here.

‘Significant need for the Red Cross’: Wisconsin volunteers share Hurricane Ian relief stories

By Tom Ruse and Colton Pemble, American Red Cross

Homes in Harlem Heights, Fla., were deluged with water which caused widespread damage. The streets are now lined with wet furniture, appliances, and personal items removed from people’s homes. Photo by Jodi Long/American Red Cross

Dozens of Wisconsin-based American Red Cross disaster volunteers and staff have deployed to Florida these past few weeks to help people through the deadly, damaging aftermath of Hurricane Ian. They’ve joined hundreds of colleagues from across the country in this extensive response and recovery effort.

As a second wave of deployments is underway to continue to meet the housing, food, health and other essentials needs of Floridians after Ian, we asked for firsthand accounts from a trio of Wisconsin disaster volunteers who have returned from their humanitarian trips.

Ryan Clancy

Ryan Clancy has been deployed to numerous disasters over the past few years, including responses after hurricanes in Louisiana and North Carolina. Often in the past, Ryan has helped with sheltering, or helping with recovery after the disaster has taken place.

Ryan, who is a Milwaukee County supervisor and owns a family play place business with his own family, was deployed as a Red Crosser to Pine Island near Ft Meyers, Fla.

“I’ve done many deployments for the Red Cross. I’ve been to hurricanes all over, as well as disaster events close to home, since around 2015 but I’ve never seen damage to the extent Ian did to Pine Island. It was overwhelming.”

“Just like any disaster, everybody’s affected regardless of income or anything else but many of the folks living on the island were in trailer homes and so obviously they took the brunt of it. It really laid bare for me the significant need for the Red Cross to be there assisting”.

Ryan Clancy holds a box of supplies during distribution to people in the hard hit area in and around Pine Island, Fla. Photo by Joy Squier / American Red Cross

With Hurricane Ian, Ryan was deployed as POP, or Point of Presence. In this situation the focus is more on immediate, crucial needs.

“The Ian deployment taught me to listen more. While we hand out clean up kits, food, water and the like, I simply asked, what do you need, and what do your neighbors need.  So this allowed us to identify the needs of folks who couldn’t necessarily come to us.”

“For example, just by asking about neighbors, we were able to identify a household with a gentleman with severe diabetes and was down to one dose of insulin, so we were able to connect him with a prescription.”

“I’m always happy to help and amazed at what I take away from each deployment; connecting with other volunteers, being able to look at the big picture to see how we should relate to each other to help our communities on times of critical need.”

Monica Liesenfeld

Monica recently returned from her most recent deployment, where she served as a supervisor and mentor to new volunteers at the temporary shelter inside the Hertz Arena. At that time, approximately 645 people displaced by Hurricane Ian were calling the minor league hockey arena home.

Monica described the town outside of the shelter as “a hodgepodge of devastation” – “palm trees were topped off and uprooted. Boats were thrown about on streets or smashed against other boats in the marinas.”

Despite this chaos outside, people were able to find some comfort within the shelter, including warm meals, beds and showers. In a touch of Southern hospitality, Monica added that Blue Bunny was contacted and the company generously provided ice cream bars for everyone in the shelter.

For all the physical items Red Cross is able to support, Monica said human connection is just as essential.

“We are an ear to their sorrow,” she said. “We show empathy and compassion. When asked for, our hugs have no boundaries.”

Diane Scheunemann, right, from Merrill, Wisc., empties a supply truck with David Burns, of Ohio, in Florida during the initial response phase for Hurricane Ian. Photo by Steve Pippenger / American Red Cross

Phillip Maier

Phillip has volunteered with the American Red Cross for four-and-a-half years. Most recently, it was a mission to support people after Hurricane Ida in Louisiana.

Last week, he returned from a two-week deployment which started off with a significant road trip. Phillip drove an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV) from Wisconsin to Orlando. From there he continued to travel across the state in Red Cross vehicles to serve food directly in communities that were hardest hit.

One of the times when he was out on a meal run, a couple approached him and said they were not there for food but just that they “saw the red cross and knew that people were here to help.” Nevertheless, Phillip made sure they were fed.

Our volunteer teams need people like you. You can find a role helping people after disasters near and far. Find out more at redcross.org/volunteer.  

Wisconsin Region spotlight: Q&A with Chris Christinrajah

Every few months, we’re highlighting the incredible work toward the mission of the American Red Cross by one of our colleagues in the Wisconsin Region. Hopefully these short profiles provide a little light of positivity and inspiration across all lines of service in our humanitarian mission.

This latest profile is on Chris Christinrajah, a Disaster Services Program manager, with a unique background and experiences tied to the mission of the Red Cross. Questions were asked by members of the Region communications team, and edited for style and space.

American Red Cross: Tell us about your professional background and your role at the Red Cross. 

Chris Christinrajah: I have been working with humanitarian organizations for over 20 years. I performed various positions with organizations like Sarvodaya and Sri Lanka Unites. And I served hundreds of thousands of people in Sri Lanka during civil war, tsunami, flooding and other disaster situations. I had the privilege of leading larger-level of relief operations, rehabilitation, resettlement and peace-building projects. 

This month, I am celebrating my fifth anniversary at American Red Cross. Over four years, I worked with Biomedical Services and helped collect life-saving blood donations. It was a rewarding opportunity to interact with a diverse range of blood donors. Now, I’m with Disaster Cycle services, and working as a Regional Program Manager for Response, Information and Planning in the Wisconsin Region. It is 24/7 work, and we are ready to respond whenever our clients need assistance. It always connects with people in need as well as people who want to help others, so great compassion is involved. It’s not an easy job, but I enjoy it because it touches on my purpose in life. 

Chris, left, with disaster team members Erin Vits, center, and Dianna Trush, before home fire safety visits in Milwaukee in spring 2022.

The mission of the Red Cross connects us to so many people. Can you share an anecdote about someone whose life was affected by your role or work at the Red Cross? 

Due to the civil war in Sri Lanka, I lived my entire childhood in refugee camps in India and Sri Lanka. I have seen the horror of the war and its impact on people’s lives, physically, emotionally, economically and socially. I was one of the victims and had been through a lot. When I was around 10-years old at the refugee camp, I said to myself that when I grew up, I would serve people affected by disaster situations. From there, I found my purpose in life. The Red Cross mission is deeply connected to my life experiences with alleviating human suffering. Working with American Red Cross is my great privilege and I am proud of it.

One of the programs I manage is the Disaster Duty officer program. Every day we make an impact on someone’s life. When we receive calls during a house fire, tornado, or flooding, and someone is in a difficult situation, they’re at a loss and experiencing trauma. The first call with the client is important to tell them that we’re here for them and supporting them. It is highly rewarding to see how they recover after they receive Red Cross assistance through Disaster Action Team and Recovery programs. 

How do you explain what you do to people outside the Red Cross? 

I do a lot of community activities in the greater Milwaukee area, from conducting sports to community events. Every day I interact with people, and they know I work for Red Cross. When they ask questions, I explain our regular relief activities, local and national [Disaster Relief Operations], including deployment of volunteers to sheltering and feeding. And I make my friends and families feel the American Red Cross stands with people during emergencies, and everyone should become a volunteer. I describe, really, that it’s all about contributing to the community.   

Chris, center, with his wife and children.

What is your hidden talent? Or a hobby you have that people may not know about? 

Because of my passion for bringing diverse people together, I’m involved in sports and recreational activities. I coach soccer and badminton in Brookfield. I love planning and executing community events such as parenting, mental health and volunteerism. When I am on PTO, I spend time with my family with three young children. We enjoy camping, hiking, road trips and other outdoor activities. 

What would you say to inspire someone to join the Red Cross – through training or as a blood donor, volunteer, or supporter? 

Our volunteers are my everyday inspiration. They are very compassionate and caring to our clients. They go above and beyond and contribute to our mission. They don’t expect anything, and they just want to help people. My role as a servant leader is to support them in performing their activities and help them grow in the organization. 

The purpose of life is not only about receiving, it’s about serving others. It’s so rewarding. So, I encourage people to find their meaning in life and the joy that comes from serving others. I love this quote stated by one of the volunteers. “Ultimately, volunteers want to have meaningful and interesting work, to make a difference in the lives of others – clients, the community, and ARC workers, and develop new and lasting friendships.”

Three Pillars of Life Help Busy Volunteer Find Balance and Rewards

By Tom Ruse, American Red Cross

It’s no accident that Lavina Harjani continues to find the right fit for her to volunteer with the American Red Cross, regardless of significant changes in her life that affect her busy schedule. She’s a consummate volunteer.

Lavina stays extremely busy with her job as a sales representative for a pharmaceutical company, her family with five children, and community work including as a Dispatch Duty Officer as well as a Disaster Action Team member for the Red Cross. She describes her job, family and community service as the three pillars of a complete, balanced life.

Lavina Harjani invites people to learn about the mission of the American Red Cross during a community event outside Camp Randall Stadium. Submitted photo

“Those are the areas that I prioritize,” she explained. “They influence everything I do.”

Lavina has worked in her full-time career for more than 20 years and volunteered with many organizations during that time prior to joining the Red Cross as a volunteer 10 years ago. As her family has grown over the past few years, she’s made changes to her schedule, but she still regularly volunteers every week.

For years as a Disaster Action Team (DAT) volunteer, Lavina has appreciated helping people in stressful situations.

“When I do get called for a Disaster Action event, I get a real rush to be a part of the team,” said Lavina. “I just love helping people and being on hand at a critical time of need. There’s something to being there, face to face. You can really see the relief on their faces when they’re receiving help. It’s really rewarding.”

Lavina explained the day-to-day as a Disaster Action Team member: “On site, we talk to a police officer or firefighter to get some background on what’s going on. Then I ask the client what happened and just listen to them tell their story. We listen, take notes, provide whatever care is needed; food, health services, financial, water, comfort kits. Toys for kids. Footwear. Blankets. It can be overwhelming, so we’re trained to take things one thing at a time and just comfort them. It can be at a Red Cross facility or on a bus in front of their residence.”

As a Dispatch Duty Officer, Lavina helps train others as well as fields calls herself.

“The first thing is to find the right amount of time to devote. Commit to a regular schedule. And when you get a call, it’s of course usually an emergency situation so there’s a lot of stress and anxiety for them. They are in a disaster situation and they’ve typically lost something or someone dear to them. We need to listen and be patient. We need to ‘be their calm’.”

Over the years a growing family has meant that her service levels have evolved as well. But she stresses that regardless of your interests and skills, or how much (or little) time you may have, there’s something that fits for anyone to fulfill their life balance with the community service.

“There are so many opportunities to help, anyone can find the right thing for them.”

A Family Affair

At a Harlem Globetrotters basketball game, the Red Cross collected funds and asked for volunteers to go to the game. Lavina and her husband, Tom Laude, and two of the five children in their family, Sam and Jack Laude, volunteered together. Submitted photo

Lavina volunteers on average 80-to-90 hours a month, while balancing a full-time job that requires her to travel a lot. Her husband Tom is on call 24/7 during his shifts as a volunteer firefighter in Cottage Grove. Tom is retired and formerly served in the Army.

Tom and the kids all donate or volunteer their time. This has been a family affair since the kids were young. As Christmas gifts, the kids give Lavina the gift of donations.

Remember the three pillars that form Lavina’s life balance? They’re like three legs of stool – each as important as the next and they work together equally. Experiences and skills learned from one area help Lavina in the others.

“With the Red Cross I learn ways to deal with folks in disaster situations that help me with my own family. I’ve learned patience, and how to be an active listener, and much more. These are skills that help me at home and at work every single day”.

Let the Red Cross help you fulfill your community service pillar. There are tons of ways for you to be involved. Reach out to the Red Cross to find out about opportunities in your area that can fulfill your particular interests and schedule.

“I had no idea I had sickle cell … until that moment”:  surprise diagnosis shows impact, range of blood disease

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross  

In April 2013, Adrian Jones gave birth to a baby girl and named her Vanessa. Before her pregnancy, Jones was unaware she had a variation of sickle cell disease (SCD). During a prenatal visit, her doctor diagnosed her with hemoglobin sickle C disease (HbSC), a mild form of sickle cell anemia and recommended that she speak to a genetic counselor.

“I had no idea I had sickle cell SC until that moment,” said Jones.  

Jones, left, worried about her own health and about the health of her newborn or any future children. She knew directly the impact of SCD on a family: Jones’s mother was diagnosed with hemoglobin sickle S disease (HbSS), often known as sickle cell anemia.  

Throughout Jones’s lifetime, she remembers her mother’s frequent pain crises, hospitalizations and blood transfusions. Being the eldest of three children, Jones was often asked to help monitor her mother’s condition. She learned early on in life when and how to dial 911. She remembers seeing the pain her mother endured and the many “preparing for the worst” moments while coping with her mother’s health scares. Her mother passed away in June 2019.

Now, Jones deals with her own effects of SCD, including throbbing pain in her joints, especially her back, hips, knees, and ankles. “It feels like my joints are on fire, crushing and throbbing,” Jones said of her pain. Her condition does not require blood transfusions and she is able to rely on self-care to manage the pain. She keeps herself educated about the disease, uses diet supplements and stays hydrated.

(September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. For important health information, resources and ways to get involved in the fight against this cruel disease, click here.)

Despite the differences in sickle cell and treatments, Jones knows blood transfusions are essential for people like her mother struggling with a form of the disease. That’s why she shares her whole family’s story, for awareness and to encourage more Black blood donors. From the Madison area, Jones shares with friends and colleagues another upcoming American Red Cross blood drive hosted by the Urban League of Greater Madison, slated for Sept. 17.

“It takes a village to take care of the community and we are taking care of our community by providing blood,” said Jones. “The first sickle cell blood drive in Madison [in April 2022] was beautiful. The support of the community made me think about how my mom sometimes needed to wait 24 hours for the right type of blood. That event provided blood so no one else would have to wait for it – it provided blood for other sickle cell patients allowing them to get to the next month or year of life.”

More than 100,000 people live with sickle cell disease nationwide, and the majority of patients are of African descent. The disease distorts soft, round blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped, which can cause extreme pain. When hardened, the cells can get caught in blood vessels, potentially leading to stroke and organ failure. Blood transfusions are often used in treatment, and many individuals who are Black have distinct markers on their red blood cells that make their blood donations the most compatible match for helping patients with sickle cell disease. 

Sickle cell blood drives aren’t Jones’s only touchpoint with the mission of the Red Cross. As a child, Jones and her family evacuated from their home due to Hurricane Andrew. Jones’s family sought refuge at a shelter where she witnessed the Red Cross providing comfort, care, blankets, water, food and storm updates. Even though she was quite young, the compassion, hugs, and support given to her as a child by the Red Cross resonated with her deeply. “The thing I remember the most was how the Red Cross helped (me and my friends) find comfort and activities to enjoy before, during and after the storm.”    

In observance of Sickle Cell Awareness Month, donors are encouraged to participate in three local sickle cell blood drives:

Friday, Sept. 2 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at MLK Library, 310 W. Locust St., Milwaukee – this blood drive is in honor of Demarus, who is a sickle cell warrior.

Friday, Sept. 9 from 1 to 6 p.m. at the American Red Cross, 2600 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee – this blood drive is in honor of Shanice, who is a sickle cell warrior.

Saturday, Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Urban League of Greater Madison, 2222 S. Park St., Madison – this blood drive continues to bring awareness to the community by inspiring and promoting the campaign, Joined by Blood.

To help ensure all patients have access to the blood products they count on, diverse donors are urged to make an appointment by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). 

Rufus King grad earns inaugural scholarship in fight against sickle cell

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

To her friends, Alana Fisher is sometimes known as “the Milwaukee optimist.”

The incoming freshman at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee packs her schedule with community service and activities that promote the city she’s called home her whole life, all with her signature infectious positivity.

“I love to get involved, tell people about the interesting things to see. There is always something going on,” said Alana.

Fisher, left, can add another nickname from her burgeoning academic and service involvement: nationally recognized sickle cell fighter.

Fisher, 18, was recently announced as one of the inaugural recipients of a $5,000 scholarship established by the American Red Cross for student leadership in strengthening the blood supply through diverse donors. Fisher led numerous blood drives with the Red Cross at Rufus King High School in Milwaukee, including the drives during the 2021-22 school year that brought in more than four-dozen units from diverse donors.

Upon hearing the news of the scholarship from the Red Cross and a teacher in mid-July, Fisher admitted she shed tears. It was a joyous recognition of her hard work to rally her fellow student donors – especially amid a pandemic – as well as cover the sometimes prohibitive costs of secondary education.

“When I called my mom, I was like ‘Oh my god, I’m so happy,’ and she said, ‘You should be proud of yourself,” said Alana, who had also earned a Red Cross Leaders Save Lives scholarship earlier in high school.

The Red Cross Sickle Cell Fighter High School Scholarship goes to students at the top 10 high schools in the U.S. for collecting blood from donors who are Black, supporting the goal of helping sickle cell patients by diversifying the blood supply. The $5,000 to students additionally promotes access to and diversity in higher education. The participating high school also receives $1,000.

Click here to find out more about our Sickle Cell Fighter Scholarships.

Fisher and Rufus King were one of two students/school from the Midwest who ranked in the top 10 for the inaugural scholarships that were announced in July, with other honorees coming from high schools in Ohio, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Fisher, center, with her Rufus King High School peers during a blood drive in 2021.

Among other public health benefits, more diversity in the blood supply from self-identified Black donors can aid people receiving transfusions to deal with excruciating pain caused by sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disproportionately affects people of color.

Mark Thomas, Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Executive Director, said the efforts at these blood drives by Alana will have a lasting, positive impact for people dealing with the pain of sickle cell disease. She’ll also stand as a role model for Milwaukee high school students who follow in her footsteps. 

“As a Milwaukee Public Schools graduate myself, I could not be prouder of Alana’s national leadership toward earning this important scholarship,” said Thomas. “Her upbeat spirit to bring in many first-time and diverse donors through these school drives shows the very best of our youth in Milwaukee and Wisconsin.”

Outside of college courses this summer, Alana has been plenty busy with weeknight river clean-ups and weekend festival participation, often inviting friends to join her. Although undecided in her college course of studies at the moment, she said she’s leaning toward public health. Along those lines, she’s expected to get involved in the Red Cross blood drives that also happen at her college campus.

For those in high school curious about hosting blood drives, Alana said the scholarship possibilities are part of a bigger return. 

“Getting connected with people you never would’ve known,” she said. “For my future endeavors … having school and Red Cross references, being able to come back to help out my school, it is all helping me figure out my future and my path.”

Make your appointment to donate life-saving blood. Visit RedCrossBlood.org for your spot at an upcoming donation site near you.

Get to know … Sara Horein, Red Cross volunteer, board member & Tiffany Circle leader

Sara Horein is one of those people who exudes the mission of the American Red Cross. She’s a leader in the Madison area on the Chapter Board, and she’s a local and national leader as a member of the Tiffany Circle. She’s traveled the world on behalf of the Measles and Rubella Initiative and recently rolled up her sleeve as a first-time blood donor.

Sara Horein, left, with Gail McGovern, CEO and President of the American Red Cross

With so much involvement, we invited Sara to share her anecdotes and passion in this Q&A. Questions were asked by members of the Region communications team and were edited for style and space.

How long have you been involved with the American Red Cross? And what first drew you in?

Sara Horein: I have been a Red Cross volunteer for 11 years. I wanted to pursue my passion of serving those most in need and thought there would be no better place than the American Red Cross. As a kid, I remember watching the news about Princess Diana in a Red Cross vest visiting landmine victims. Her kindness and continuous service with the Red Cross resonated with me.

You’ve volunteered in some impressive roles at the Red Cross. Can you share details and anecdotes on some of your volunteer service locally and internationally?

One of my favorite Red Cross memories is this first time I traveled with the Measles & Rubella Initiative to Kenya where the local government – supported by the American Red Cross and our partners – completed a successful, nine-day vaccination campaign in the East African country. Targeting 19 million children between nine-months and 14-years old, this effort was Kenya’s largest immunization campaign in the Measles & Rubella Initiative’s history.

As an Independent Monitor during the campaign one of my duties was to visit hard-to-reach communities to ensure that we have 100% vaccination coverage. Most of the communities I visited are extremely rural or are on country borders because that’s where it’s most difficult to get vaccines distributed.

Horein in Indonesia with the Measles and Rubella Initiative, which is credited with the prevention of more than 31 million measles-related deaths since 2001.

When a child is vaccinated during the Campaign their left pinkie is marked with indelible ink which lasts about 3 to 5 days. I was in an extremely rural part of Kenyan, with my Red Cross translator, looking for mothers and children when I came upon a woman that stopped me in my tracks. There in front of me was woman working harder than I ever had. Approaching her with my Red Cross translator, we had our vaccine-related question ready, but uncovered so much more.

She willingly informed us that her four daughters had just been vaccinated because of the country-wide vaccination campaign. She called for her daughters to come outside. Proudly, this mother showed us that indelible ink on each of their left little fingers.

It was only then that Chimwala told us her extraordinary story. We learned her husband recently passed away, leaving Chimwala the sole financial provider for her four daughters. Without hesitation, she took on his manual labor job of making bricks out of mud to build homes. As she told us about her life, she stood ankle deep in mud, with the harsh African sun beating down on her weathered skin. Behind her were hundreds of bricks – some in stacks and others in rows drying. I will never forget Chimwala or her story. She reinforced my awesome responsibility and purpose as a Red Cross volunteer.

As an Independent Monitor for the Measles and Rubella Initiative, I have travelled to underserved countries like Kenya, Malawi and Indonesia to ensure the most vulnerable populations are being reached with life-saving vaccines. With the Measles & Rubella Initiative, we provide a lifeline to some of the world’s most vulnerable people. The Measles & Rubella Initiative is important because the virus is one of the most infectious diseases known to humans. Eliminating measles outside our borders is critical to ensuring domestic outbreaks in the U.S. are stopped.

To someone who may be unfamiliar with the Tiffany Circle, of which you are a member, can you share how you’d describe this impressive group?

Since our founding by Clara Barton over 140 years ago, the Red Cross has been fortunate to count on women leaders among our volunteers, team members and financial donors.

The Tiffany Circle in Wisconsin during a meeting in August 2022.

The Tiffany Circle is a group of women leaders who combine a passion for the Red Cross mission with the power of their philanthropy to alleviate human suffering. More than 1,200 women across the country are members of Tiffany Circles in various cities, investing their resources, leadership and compassion to support Red Cross programs.

In 16 years, members have raised more than $146 million and volunteered countless hours in support of the Red Cross mission.

Along with your local Tiffany Circle leadership, you’ve stepped up in a national role as well. Can you explain what that entails?
As Co-Chair I lead the implementation of the Tiffany Circle strategic plan while inspiring members to support the mission work of the Red Cross.

Let me share a story with you on one way that I’ve inspired women to give: Before the pandemic, I travelled internationally as Red Cross volunteer. Because of my frequent travel to Asia and Africa I was unable to donate blood. Then with the pandemic my international volunteer role and travel was put on hold. The pandemic forced me to think creatively about how I could continue to safely touch the humanitarian mission of the Red Cross.

Guess what!? I rolled up my sleeve and donated blood for the first time. In two years, I’ve donated blood more than eight times. This makes me feel good because I know blood donations save lives.

I tell this story because I believe through service we learn to lead by our heart and to influence others. And, this is a big part of my role at the Red Cross.

As volunteer leader at the Red Cross, I am proud to be following in the footsteps of a long line of women leaders, from our founder, Clara Barton, to our present-day CEO and President Gail McGovern. Gail inspires me to have the courage to lead with my heart.

What would you say to someone looking to take their first steps toward getting involved at the American Red Cross?

My best advice is to follow your passion and lead with your heart – everything else will fall in place.

“Blood saved my life” local Red Cross employee shares going from blood collector to blood recipient

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Since November 2019, Brian Reignier from Green Bay has worked on the Red Cross Blood Services Team in Northwest Wisconsin. In January 2022, Reignier went from blood collector to blood recipient. 

After an emergency surgery to repair an infected knee replacement, Reignier was released from the hospital. While recovering at home, he experienced post-surgery complications and started to lose a significant amount of blood. When he returned to the hospital, his blood pressure and hemoglobin levels were extremely low putting his life in extreme danger. Reignier required an immediate blood transfusion.

“My doctor said if I would have waited another hour to go back to the hospital, that they would be speaking to family members and not me,” said Reignier. “The blood saved my life.”  

Reignier needed blood during the 2022 blood crisis. Hospital personnel had orders to provide blood, but out of an abundance of caution, and to stretch the blood supply, only two out of the three units were needed. With limited inventory, type O negative blood (the universal blood type) was the only blood available.

Reignier remembers looking at the blood bag hanging on the pole and recognizing it as one that he and his colleagues collect from donors every day and how thankful he is for those donors. 

Reignier is back collecting blood from donors and fulfilling the mission of the Red Cross. He has been associated with the Red Cross since he was 16 years old in the role of a lifeguard and first aid/CPR instructor and, most recently, occasionally volunteering with the disaster action team for home fires. “I’m very proud to be associated with an organization that has had the longevity and reputation that the Red Cross has by helping others,” said Reignier. 

During the summer months, blood and platelet donations often do not keep pace with hospital demand. that’s why the American Red Cross is teaming up WBAY-TV and Star 98 WQLH for the 36th annual Super Donor Days Blood Drive Thursday, June 30 from noon to 6 p.m. and Friday, July 1 from 6 a.m. to noon at Tundra Lodge Resort, 865 Lombardi Ave, Green Bay.

All presenting donors will receive a Red Cross recycled cotton tote bag, a $10 gift card (via email), courtesy of Suburban Propane, while supplies last. Special refreshments and picnic style food will be available.

Appointments are strongly encouraged. Walk ins will be allowed as space permits.

Schedule an appointment to donate blood by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). You can also find ways to make a financial donation or join us as a volunteer at RedCross.org.

Madison blood drive brings groups together to fight sickle cell disease

Story by Nicole Sandler, Photos by Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Walking into the American Red Cross Sickle Cell Awareness blood drive on April 30 at the Urban League of Greater Madison felt somewhat like walking into a party.

Amidst the conference room filled with donation beds, blood collection vials, tubing, needles and expert phlebotomists, there was a sense of connection, community and appreciation. Volunteers from Madison’s local chapters of Black fraternities and sororities helped with tasks such as signing in those who had pre-registered to donate blood and registering those who walked in. Other volunteers cheerfully worked at stations set up with chairs for resting and healthy snacks to replenish the energy of those who had just donated blood. Red Cross balloons and lively music added a festive air, and catch-up conversations and educational opportunities were plentiful.

Martin Lackey of Madison battles sickle cell disease. Sharing his story was key to rally friends and colleagues toward donations at a recent blood drive at the Urban League of Greater Madison.

When Martin Lackey arrived at the blood drive that morning, he was met with many high fives, hugs and smiles. As someone suffering from sickle cell anemia, he was there to provide support and inspiration. With his connections across various Madison organizations, Lackey realized an opportunity to bring together around an issue that has acutely affected local Black friends and family. Martin explained that the first step in the process involved calling his friend Dr. Ruben Anthony, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Madison, and the man Martin considers his mentor.  

Dr. Anthony in turn helped to coordinate the April 30 blood drive. “As a leader in our community, he has a bigger vision for this challenge,” Lackey said of Dr. Anthony.

Sickle cell anemia is a highly hereditary form of anemia characterized by low hemoglobin levels. Hemoglobin is the most important protein in red blood cells as it’s responsible for carrying oxygen. Red blood cells with defective hemoglobin contort into sickle, or crescent, shapes, and that is how the disease earned its name. Sickle cells die early, leading to a constant shortage of red blood cells, and when they travel through small blood vessels, because of their abnormal shape, they often get stuck and clog blood flow. This can cause pain and other serious problems like infection, shortness of breath, acute chest syndrome and stroke. Treatment includes medications, blood transfusions, and in some cases, a bone marrow transplant. Whatever a sickle cell patient’s status or recommended treatment may be, these patients require additional blood throughout their lives.

Martin was diagnosed at a young age with sickle cell anemia, and unfortunately, his diagnosis was not novel for his family – his older sister suffered from the disease as well and eventually died. After growing up in Chicago for the first 12 years of his life, his family moved to Madison where he attended local middle and high schools, and then earned a degree in business management at Madison College. He continues to pursue his passion for real estate and founded his own Realtor agency. He accomplished all of this despite struggling his entire life to manage the symptoms, and the pain, of sickle cell anemia. He describes being in and out of hospitals, and while his current stays are shorter in length, as a child he was hospitalized for months at a time.

Bobby Moore sips juice during his Power Red donation at the Urban League offices in Madison. Moore was inspired to give by those dealing with sickle cell disease, like his friend Martin Lackey.

Now, as an adult at age 45 with “too many years of experience” under his belt, he knows better how to manage the symptoms. He keeps extra oxygen at home and a steady supply of prescription pain medications.

Martin speaks with pride about his six adult children – four of his own and two nephews whom he raised and also counts as his own after his sister passed away. They are the focus of his life and he worries about the trauma they’ve suffered through witnessing their father’s chronic illness. Through it all, his disease has defined him and remains a constant in his family’s life. That is a significant reason why Martin remains motivated to do something about it. By raising awareness of sickle cell anemia and the need for blood donations to keep those with the disease alive, he believes he can help.

In all, this drive in Madison served 21 first-time donors and collected 55 units of blood. Just as important, the event met its goal of raising awareness about a painful, challenging disease. Through these efforts, more research and more engagement around sickle cell anemia can be achieved, and Martin Lackey will continue to inspire us all to do our part.

Click here to learn how the American Red Cross is taking on sickle cell disease with testing, blood supply diversity, scholarships and more.