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.

Annual membership notice for the SE Wisconsin Chapter of the American Red cross

The American Red Cross – Southeast Wisconsin Chapter is inviting all eligible members to join our annual membership meeting at 7:30 a.m., Wednesday, June 15, 2022.

Membership is open to anyone who has made a monetary contribution, performed volunteer service and/or donated blood to the American Red Cross. The purpose of membership is to promote community understanding, commitment and support of the Red Cross mission and services.

This annual meeting will be led by the Board of Directors of the Southeast Chapter and will include election of officers as well as regular business updates.

This meeting will be held in-person and virtually via Microsoft Teams, out of a continuing abundance of caution due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For an invitation to the meeting or other questions, reach out to Regional CEO and Southeast Wisconsin Chapter Executive Mark Thomas at mark.thomas3@redcross.org or Regional Coordinator Executive Constance Palmer at constance.palmer@redcross.org.

Near-death medical onslaught brings Muskego woman closer to blood that supported recovery

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

Two heart attacks, one stroke, stage 5 liver and kidney disease, an official diagnosis of hemolytic anemia brought on by lupus and then considered essentially dead for seven minutes.

For most people having any one of these health events would create a life-changing moment. Shannon Estes experienced them all. The process to come through the other side, alive and well, including numerous blood transfusions – Estes can only see it as “unbelievable.”

During the next course of tests, Estes said she flatlined on the table and was considered dead for seven minutes. She was placed on life support where she remained in a medically induced coma.  

On October 25, 2021, Estes, of Muskego, was getting ready for work when she was struck with an excruciating headache, a tingling sensation down her arm and shortness of breath. A trip to the hospital diagnosed Estes with a heart attack. Her hemoglobin levels were low requiring her to receive a blood transfusion. An ultrasound to determine the blood loss came back as inconclusive and her blood levels continued to decline.  

Estes woke up three days later, on a ventilator with stage 5 liver and kidney disease. During this critical time, she was on continuous dialysis and suffered yet another heart attack plus a stroke. Her life was in jeopardy and the doctors were not optimistic. Her blood levels were still low and now they were faced with many more complications.  

Estes spent three weeks in the ICU and received multiple blood transfusions – many times having to wait 24-to-72 hours for the right match. She was diagnosed with hemolytic anemia, a disorder in which red blood cells are destroyed faster than they can be made, brought on by lupus, a disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs.  

Receiving Type B positive blood has given Estes another chance to live her life and she is incredibly grateful for blood donors. “The Lord works in mysterious ways,” said Estes. “It’s unbelievable to think that a few minutes of someone’s time and a little bit of their blood literally gave me a chance to see my children live their lives.” 

Estes is recovered, back to work and walking about a mile a day. She works at the Muskego Circle Community Center where she hosts local American Red Cross community blood drives throughout the year.  

“Before my personal experience, I have to admit that I never understood how a blood drive could impact so many lives,” said Estes. “Now I’m honored to be able to provide a space for you to do it.” When asked about encouraging others to donate, Estes said, “I’d like them to consider what they’d hope someone would do for their loved ones should they ever be in a situation like mine.” 

The Red Cross of Wisconsin region provides numerous opportunities for eligible blood donors to give blood this summer. That includes two signature drives, each with summer style and giveaways:

  • The 17th annual Milwaukee County Zoo Blood Drive Monday, June 27 through Wednesday, June 29 from 9:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. at the zoo’s Peck Center, 10001 W. Bluemound Road, Milwaukee.
  • The 22nd annual Madison Beach Days Blood Drive, Friday, July 1 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Sheraton Hotel, 706 John Nolen Drive, Madison.

Appointments are strongly encouraged. Walk-ins will be taken as space allows.

Schedule an appointment to donate blood at an upcoming blood drive 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.

Wisconsin Region spotlight: Q&A with Kelly Clark

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 Kelly Clark, a Regional Philanthropy Officer on our Fund Development team, her latest role in an impressive range of service to people as a Red Crosser. 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.

Kelly Clark: I have been a Red Crosser since 2012. I joined the organization as a volunteer in Colorado Springs, Colo. and the Volunteer Services team quickly threw me in to help with planning a disaster training institute. Since then, every time my husband and I moved to a new place with the U.S. Army, I reached out to the local Red Cross office to offer my help. Sometimes in Disaster Services, sometimes in Service to the Armed Forces.

Kelly Clark, left, with volunteers amid an interview with Armed Forces Network while Clark was a Red Cross Field Office Coordinator at a military base in Germany.

When we moved to overseas in 2015, I became the Field Office Coordinator for the American Red Cross office on the USAG Bavaria military base in Vilseck, Germany, and as the only Red Cross employee on the base, I was affectionally known as the “Red Cross lady.” The next step in my Red Cross career was joining the Chicago team as a Disaster Program Manager, covering disaster preparedness and response in five counties including the city of Chicago.

In March, I joined the Wisconsin Region as a Regional Philanthropy Officer for the Southeast Chapter. In this role I will be working with individual, foundation and corporate donors and partners in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin.

Prior to joining the Red Cross, I majored in German and Russian and European Studies for my undergraduate degree at the University of Bath in England, and I am now in the middle of completing my M.S. in Nonprofit Management from Northeastern University, an online course which is based out of Boston.

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?

As the Field Officer Coordinator in Germany I was responsible, among other things, for our volunteer program and developing volunteer leadership. The unique nature of living on a military base overseas as a military spouse means there are very few career opportunities available, at least prior to COVID and virtual work becoming more common. One of our volunteers, Sophie, was in the final stages of getting her R.N. license, but needed practical experience in nursing to be able to complete the requirements for her degree. Short of travelling back to the U.S. and being away from her family she wasn’t sure of a feasible solution. In seeing this need, I built a relationship with the military health clinic on base, eventually allowing Sophie – and a number of other nurses-in-training after her – to volunteer as a nurse in the clinic to fulfil her degree requirements.

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

Since the American Red Cross is so well known there is such an overwhelmingly positive response when people find out I work for the organization that it doesn’t warrant a whole lot of explanation. When I do speak about my role, I explain that I work with partners in the Milwaukee area to raise funds so that the Red Cross can achieve its mission in alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies. I think back to my role as a Disaster Program Manager and handing out Client Assistance Cards to clients after a home fire; Disaster Services wouldn’t be able to do its amazing work without the Fund Development team raising the money. Similarly, the Fund Development team wouldn’t exist without Disaster. It is all interlinked. One Red Cross!

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

Clark, center, faces a group of trainees at a “Sound the Alarm” smoke alarm installation event in May in Milwaukee.

My hidden talent is that I can speak multiple languages – I grew up speaking English and Dutch and also speak German and Russian (though it’s rather rusty!). A hobby that isn’t necessarily mine, but I indulge in because it’s certainly my husband’s hobby – board games. We probably have 150 different board games in our collection and love to play!

Has anyone in your immediately circle (family or friends) been helped or trained by the Red Cross? If so, how?

Many of my military spouse friends have been trained by the Red Cross through the Preparedness Health and Safety programs, and have become Red Cross volunteers. As part of my role in Germany, I was the local First Aid/CPR/AED instructor, so not only did my close friends get trained in First Aid/CPR/AED, I convinced many of them to train to become instructors of the course, too! This was another great way for military spouses to build skills and keep their resumes active and up to date while they were stationed with their Army spouses abroad.

What does the Red Cross mean to you?

The Red Cross to me means a community of people who want to change peoples’ lives, one disaster response, training class, or smoke alarm install at the time. I didn’t know that when I walked into the Pikes Peak Chapter of the Red Cross in Colorado Springs in 2012 that this would become my lifelong career, but now I couldn’t see it any other way!

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

To inspire someone to join the Red Cross, I would tell them my Red Cross story, and the stories of those individuals and families who I have seen be helped by the Red Cross. From a family who lost their home after a house fire, to elementary school children receiving preparedness education through the Pillowcase Project, and to service members and their families who were reunited after a family emergency … the Red Cross is there for people during some of the hardest moments of their lives.

Hundreds of Wisconsin residents safer after “Sound the Alarm” installation events 

Story & photos by Laura McGuire and Justin Kern, American Red Cross 

Spring once again meant community safety along with the flowers and showers in Wisconsin. 

The American Red Cross “Sound the Alarm. Save a Life” home fire safety campaign returned to various cities over the course of three weeks, including an emphasis in Wisconsin on residents in Milwaukee, Fond du Lac, Sun Prairie and La Crosse. In a matter of a few hours during select days in May, approximately 300 homes in our state received free smoke alarms, fire escape plans and peace of mind against home fires, the most common disaster people face.  

Wisconsin Region CEO Mark Thomas, at right with megaphone, rallies crowds before the Milwaukee day of home fire safety on May 21, 2022.

Red Cross responses to residential fires have increased over the past two years, with thousands of families in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan displaced or worse. Since 2014, the Red Cross Home Fire Campaign, which includes the spring “Sound the Alarm” events, has documented more than 1,270 lives saved, including families in Janesville and Oshkosh.  

After two years without the full force of the signature Red Cross home fire safety campaign in communities due to the COVID pandemic, there was a sense of gratitude – in being proactive, giving back and joining together.  

“This is a big deal to me,” said Cristina Castillo, who lives with her five family members in their home on Milwaukee’s South Side, where Red Cross volunteers installed multiple alarms and talked through a home fire escape plan. “Thank you for being here and thank you for coming into our home.”  

‘How could I say no to free smoke alarms?’ 

In Wisconsin, home fire safety days began with events in Sun Prairie and La Crosse in the same week.

Over the course of two days, Red Cross volunteers, partners and firefighters brought more than 118 alarms plus escape plans and resources to people at more than 50 homes.  

As the Red Cross volunteer and partner fire safety teams visited Dianne Ames’s home in Sun Prairie, one could not help but notice the Green Bay Packers signage on the walls. But the reason for the visit was not to cheer on the team, but to install smoke alarms, review fire safety tips, create a home escape plan and make her home safer, and of course, keep those Packers items safe as well.   

Crystal and Dianne Ames talk through their fire safety plan with Natalie Courtier, Sun Prairie F.D.

When visiting her local community center earlier this year, Ames was greeted by a Red Cross employee sharing the importance of working smoke alarms and the resources available from this program.  

“How could I say no to free smoke alarms?,” said Dianne Ames about why she decided to sign up for the fire safety visit. “Thank you, this is a great program, and I am happy to get new smoke alarms to keep my house safe.”  

Ames’s is grateful for the program and has taken advantage of free smoke alarms in the past. About eight years ago, the Sun Prairie Fire Department had a safety initiative and installed her previous smoke alarms, which were soon to expire. 

“Many people don’t know that smoke alarms need to be replaced every ten years,” said Natalie Courtier, Community Risk Reduction Officer, Sun Prairie Fire Department, who joined the installation team at Ames’s home. “The batteries in the new smoke alarms we are putting in today will not need to be replaced – they are guaranteed to last for 10 years, but we do encourage you to test them once a month to make sure they are working properly.”  

Within 30 minutes, two new smoke alarms were installed and tested in Ames’s home. Meanwhile, other members of the installation team sat with Ames in her kitchen to review safety tips and create a home fire escape plan for her family.   

“I am blessed with what I have been given and I like meeting new people and helping out where I can,” said Jean Aden, QBE employee and volunteer with this installation team alongside co-workers Greg Puloo.

The volunteer installation team walked out of Ames’s house with a sense of pride knowing they helped to make her home safer and that her beloved Green Bay Packer signage would be safe, too.    

‘A lot more secure’ 

The Cream City has the highest number of fire responses and need in the state, but COVID has kept Red Cross teams and partners from holding wide-scale preparedness events since spring 2019. After a rally for about 100 volunteers, staff and partners at Milwaukee Fire Department Station 12, fire safety teams fanned out predominately on Milwaukee’s South Side, an area of heightened responses. By around lunchtime, teams had visited 162 homes, installing 400 free smoke alarms.  

Cristina Castillo, standing, talks through a plan for her family to safely escape a home fire with Red Cross volunteer Melissa Centgraf during a visit in Milwaukee.

Red Cross volunteers Scott Laurent, Melissa Centgraf and Jeffrey Schouten made about 10 stops on their fire safety appointments in the Lincoln Village neighborhood.  

Cristina and Jesus Castillo lost loved ones in Michigan after a home fire. As teams were installing alarms two doors down at their sister’s home, they realized these same resources could be vital for their home, which includes their mother, their two children and a grandchild. The Castillos invited Laurent, Centgraf and Schouten in, where they installed a handful of alarms and drew out a fire escape plan for the three-story home.  

“Now we have … a plan, like if you hear an alarm going off and how to get out of rooms on this side of the house or that side of the house,” said Cristina Castillo, later adding, “I feel a lot more secure. It’s been in the back of my mind but sometimes you just get so busy … I’m extremely happy you all are here.” 

‘Good and helpful reminders’ 

John Wright said he really didn’t know where all of the smoke alarms were located throughout his two-story, finished-basement home in Fond du Lac.  

“Have at it,” Wright said while inviting a three-person installation team to check out alarm needs in the home, one of nearly 100 scheduled over two days in the city. 

Calie Tasch, Community Risk Reduction Specialist, Fond du Lac Fire/Rescue, was the self-described “drill-master” and talked through existing alarms and possible replacements with Red Cross disaster volunteer and intern Laura Knops. Ultimately, two, new alarms were installed near a furnace and a wood-working area.  

Calie Tasch, Fond du Lac Fire/Rescue, and Laura Knops install alarms during a stop amid two days of fire safety in Fond du Lac.

At the same time, Sara Dorow, Red Cross Disaster Program Recovery Manager, joined Wright on a kitchen island to talk over cooking tips, an escape map of the home and additional awareness around the common local threat of tornadoes. Wright signed up for the alarms through the local Aging and Disability Resource Center, a partner in outreach for many of the appointments on this day  in Fond du Lac.  

“All of these are good and helpful reminders,” Wright said.  

This home fire safety push is possible because of numerous supporters and partners in our communities. Our spring 2022 partners include: Milwaukee Fire Department, La Crosse Fire Department, Fond du Lac Fire/Rescue, Sun Prairie Fire Department, United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, Forest County Potawatomi Foundation, Generac, Nicholas Family Foundation, Great Rivers United Way, Brewers Community Foundation, Festival Foods, Mercury Marine, QBE, Aurora Advocate Health, Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee, Aging and Disability Resource Center of Fond du Lac County, City of Fond du Lac Senior Center, Sunshine Place, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of Milwaukee, Colonial Club, Alderwoman JoCasta Zamarripa, Milwaukee Tool, El Rey and Pete’s Fruit Market.  

You can still bring these free fire safety resources from the Red Cross and our partners to your home and family. Sign up at redcross.org/WIsmokealarms or (888) 376-4056.  

Dynamic mother-daughter donor duo

By Tom Ruse, American Red Cross

Susan and Kristin Brown – mother and daughter, respectively – have been donating blood together for years. At a recent drive held at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), this dynamic family duo shared their bond and Mother’s Day spirit that continues to bring them back to make life-saving donations.

Susan has been donating for more than 50 years. She explained how it all started: “The first donation was when I was in the school of nursing at UW-Madison. My boyfriend at the time (now husband) was an avid donor. That had a positive impact on my decision to donate.”  

Kristin first began donating at age 17. “I wanted to participate because I knew that my dad was an avid blood donor and felt this was a simple way to give back and follow in his footsteps.”  

Kristin, right, and Susan Brown have a close-knot family that enjoys sharing in all things Wisconsin together, including sporting events, trying new food and cocktail creations. “Really anything we can celebrate as a reason to get together, we will!” That includes donating blood; in total, Susan has donated 25 pints and Kristin has donated 19 pints.

Besides Kristin, Susan has two other daughters, Erin and Sara and son, David. For the last several years, Susan and Kristin have donated together when WARF holds a drive (Kristin serves as Facilities Services Manager at WARF). Returning to the same site provides consistent mother-daughter time, not to mention a regular reminder of the need.  

 “It really provides a unique opportunity for us spend time together while helping support such an important cause. We often promote our involvement in hopes others will join us,” said Kristin.

Susan has seen the other side of giving blood, too.

“My husband has had a few open-heart surgeries that required blood transfusions, which made me realize the importance of giving back. There is always a need for donations, because of adverse weather events, other disasters, recent COVID-related issues.”

Kristin concured, “Having family members who have needed a donation has heightened my awareness of what I can do now for someone else. I’m thankful that WARF is so supportive of our work drives. I find great value in participating in a work-sponsored event that also has universal community impact”.

There are many memorable experiences Susan and Kristin have had because of donating.

“Prior to donating with WARF, I donated at a Christmas Eve drive,” Kristin recalled. “It was snowy, but it was important for me to show up and support. There was a real sense of community and festive spirit that day. It felt great to go into the holiday with a ‘giving back’ mindset.”

“I donated on my birthday once,” added Susan. “It made the birthday cake taste that much sweeter!”

Susan and Kristin are eager to encourage others who have never donated to give it a try.

“It is such a selfless act that doesn’t require a lot of time,” Susan emphasized. “You immediately feel this sense of giving back, that you really helped someone in need. Then, when you receive the email notification letting you know where your blood was sent to help someone in need, it provides a greater awareness of the impact one donation can have.  It really helps you feel more connected to the process.”

“Think about paying it forward,” Kristin continued, “And while no one wants to dwell on this possibility, there may be a time in the future when you or a loved one needs a donation.”

Consider the rewarding experience of helping by donating platelets, plasma or blood.  Visit redcrossblood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS today to find current donor drives in your area.

First-person: after donor shared hers, I was ready to tell my family’s platelets story

By Tom Ruse, American Red Cross

We sometimes ask blood donors to give us a bit of background about why they donate and the experiences they’ve had. I was struck by one particular donor’s comments but was unable to reach out to flesh out the story.

Still, her brief comments about donating and her personal story about needing platelets motivated me to share a bit of my own experiences with donating.

First, her comments: “Donor blood/plasma saved my life. In June 2021, I went in for decreased movement at 31 weeks pregnant while having Covid. Tests showed my baby was struggling and my platelets were dropping dramatically. I had an emergency C-section and went to the ICU where I had [a transfusion of] four bags of plasma and a bag of blood. So grateful me and my daughter are here and thriving. Why donate? You can save a life! And you may need it one day.”

Tom, left, and Steve Ruse celebrate their mother’s 98th birthday recently.

Those last lines really hit home. Years ago, my brother, Steve, underwent intense cancer treatments at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. I mean, the whole nine yards. Massive chemo treatments, bone marrow transplant, radiation, the works. He was in it for the long haul. So long in fact that my sister-in-law rented an apartment nearby the hospital (they lived in Kansas City).

During the process he needed platelets and apparently, it’s not always a chip-shot to find a good fit for a donor. Bottom line was that I happened to be a good match. So, I flew down to Houston to donate.

Unfortunately, when my blood was tested, my white blood count was too high, likely on account of a recent cold. The last thing my brother needed was in infection, so I couldn’t donate. I was pretty bummed. He needed this and apparently couldn’t find an ideal donor! I was told if I waited a few days my virus infection might diminish to the point that I could safely donate. So, I had an unexpected longer stay in Houston. I visited my brother, my sister-in-law and I spent time finding some great eateries in the area. I even visited a long-lost cousin who lived there. A few days later I was cleared to donate – all good.

Even if you have a lot on your “Plate-Let’s” talk about donating

Donating platelets is a bit different than the whole blood donation most people are familiar with. They take it out of one arm, extract platelets, then put the blood right back in the other arm. It’s no more difficult than giving a pint of blood, it just takes a little longer. Figure two-to-three hours.

Steve recovered and was cancer free for 10 years before he got a second bout. His treatments this time were also quite intense but were able to be done at home in Kansas versus having to go to Houston. So I donated again; this time it was while I was visiting for Thanksgiving.

More good news, Steve’s second bout with cancer was 21 years ago! He’s bounced back and is doing great, spending lots of quality time with his grandkids when he’s not on the golf course. Or vice versa.

American Red Cross donors save thousands of lives each year with generous donations of blood, plasma and platelets. Photo by Michelle Frankfurter for the American Red Cross

Of course, the true heroes in this story are the medical staff. And Steve is the biggest hero of all, with his tenacity and sheer will to kick cancer’s ass. I’d say he’s a walking miracle, if there ever was one.

“It’s hard to put into words really”, Steve shared, “how special and inspirational it is when you experience receiving a donation, especially when you know it was specifically for you”.

“You can save a life! And you may need it one day”

Indeed! Just as that donor said recently. And as I’ve reflected on with my own platelet donations. I invite you to consider the uniquely rewarding experience of helping others by donating platelets, plasma or blood. Find a drive or donation center near you and make an appointment at RedCrossBlood.org or by calling 800 RED CROSS.

Local volunteer goes the extra 23,000 miles for the Red Cross

Red Cross volunteer Don Suloff loads boxes of lifesaving blood into the Red Cross vehicle to deliver to area hospitals. Photo by Laura McGuire / American Red Cross

By Laura McGuire, American Red Cross

The American Red Cross is always in need of blood and platelet donations, but it’s also in need of local volunteers to help transport blood products to area hospitals.

Don Suloff is a volunteer and platelet donor, who inspires and encourages others to follow in his footsteps during National Volunteer Month and Volunteer Appreciation Week, both in April.  

Suloff, a transportation specialist for more than 20 years, has logged nearly 23,000 miles behind the wheel of a Red Cross vehicle.

A quick Google search reveals that it takes 24,901 miles to circle the earth. Suloff has about 1,900 miles to go before he can claim to have rounded the globe in his volunteer travels. But it’s not about the mileage; he thrives on helping people and making a difference in the community by delivering thousands of blood donations to area hospitals.

While enjoying his retired life, Suloff found he had extra time on his hands and wanted to put it to good use. So, every Tuesday and Sunday morning you can find Suloff at the Red Cross donation center in Madison loading boxes filled with precious, lifesaving blood to deliver to area hospitals.

In 2001, Suloff got his start volunteering with the Red Cross as a blood donor ambassador, a role where he would check blood donors into their appointments, answer questions and give out post donation snacks. He volunteered at various community drives throughout the Madison area.

In 2010, Suloff became a transportation specialist. “I like driving and visiting with people”, said Suloff. “This is a perfect volunteer opportunity for me.” Whether visiting with Red Cross staff or hospital staff, Suloff’s caring, compassionate personality shines through and inspires us all.

“Some days I deliver a couple boxes of blood, some days I deliver eight boxes of blood,” said Suloff, a Madison resident. Suloff finds delivering blood to area hospitals an easy task but a very important thing to do. “Knowing that I am delivering blood is very rewarding, especially knowing that patient’s lives depend on it.”

Red Cross blood donor Don Suloff takes a moment to smile for the camera while donating platelets for patients in need. Photo by Laura McGuire / American Red Cross

On most Tuesdays, after volunteering his time as a transportation specialist, Suloff steps into the donation center to donate platelets for patients in need. Platelet donors are able to donate once every seven days up to 24 times a year and Suloff contributes every chance he gets. He has donated more than 117 gallons of blood in the past 30 years.

Suloff’s recalls one on his fondest Red Cross memories – While out in the community and wearing a “Red Cross Cancer Kicker T-shirt,” given to him as a thank you gift for one of his many donations, a woman he didn’t know approached him. Upon seeing his T-shirt, she thanked him for donating blood. She was indeed thankful for the lifesaving gift of blood as she had just completed her cancer treatment and knew too well the priceless gift of platelets.

“That was quite an impactful moment, and one I will always remember” said Suloff. “When I told her I also volunteered with the Red Cross and delivered blood to area hospitals she was even more thrilled.”

During this National Volunteer Week, we salute our Red Cross volunteers, celebrate their accomplishments and recognize each and every one of them for their lifesaving work. Without these volunteer heroes the Red Cross could not achieve our mission of helping people in need.

More than 90 percent of the Red Cross workforce is volunteers. Last year, more than 300,000 individuals volunteered their time to support the mission of the Red Cross.

Our volunteers are the true heart and soul of the Red Cross. With endless compassion and dedication, Red Cross volunteers give of themselves whenever and wherever they are needed. You, too, can help.

Please consider becoming a Red Cross volunteer, visit redcross.org/volunteer to learn more, or make an appointment to give blood by visiting redcrossblood.org.