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Why Do You Save Lives?

I first donated blood as a 17-year-old high school student, motivated more by my desire to skip fifth period European History than to actually make a difference in my community. A few years later I became a regular blood donor, no longer to escape class or work, but as a way to honor the lifesaving example my mother – who has worked for more than 40 years as a registered nurse – set for me and follow in her “superhero” footsteps.

People donate blood for the first time for many reasons, and many of these individuals become regular blood donors for an even wider variety of reasons. When I asked a handful of blood donors why they first walked into a blood drive  and why they returned for future donations, I received answers as varied as they are as individuals.

Jamie from Iowa followed her father’s lead. He had donated in honor of his sister when she suffered from childhood leukemia many years prior, so Jamie saw firsthand and knew from a young age the importance of blood donation. When she learned she had O negative blood (the universal blood type) Jamie committed to regular blood donations.

Elizabeth from Wisconsin donated for the first time at a high school blood drive, but not as a student. National Honor Society hosted the school’s blood drives, and as the NHS faculty advisor, Elizabeth became involved because her job required her to do so. She continued donating each time NHS hosted a blood drive both to support her students and as a way to give back after blood transfusions helped keep her mother alive for a year. (Incidentally, Elizabeth worked at the same high school I attended – she and I donated blood for the first time in the exact same gymnasium!)

Cody from Texas began donating at 20 years old – and continues to donate four times a year many years later – as a way of showing support and lending a hand in the wake of the many natural disasters that have impacted our country.

As a child, Kelsey from Nebraska found a jewelry box belonging to grandma that instead of jewelry, held years of blood donor milestone pins. Kelsey’s grandma donated regularly and frequently for more than 45 years, and when Kelsey was old enough, she began donating multiple times a year in her grandma’s honor.

And last but not least, Nicole from Texas donated – for the first time and many initial times since then – because of one of the simplest but most powerful reasons around: a friend asked her to do so.

There is an emergency need for blood and platelet donors. Severe winter weather in January forced the cancellation of more than 340 blood drives in 20 states, resulting in nearly 10,000 donations uncollected, further depleting an already low winter supply. Right now, blood products are being distributed to hospitals as quickly as donations come in. Appointments: Blood Donor App (3cu.be/blood),redcrossblood.org or 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).




From the Archives – African American Leadership in the Red Cross


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African Americans Play Important Leadership Role

In Red Cross History

From the beginning, African Americans have played an important role in the mission of the American Red Cross. In honor of February’s observance of Black History Month, we salute the accomplishments of some remarkable individuals who paved the way by achieving recognition and prominence through service.

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Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)  –  Adviser To Clara Barton

African American involvement in the American Red Cross goes back to the beginning of the organization. After the Civil War, Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, met with famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass and talked about establishing a Red Cross Association in the United States. Douglass supported Barton’s efforts and continued to support the work of the Red Cross after it was founded in 1881.

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Frances Elliott Davis (1877-1965)  –  Red Cross Nurse

In 1915, Frances Elliott Davis, a professional nurse at Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., applied for American Red Cross service. Undeterred by initial rejection, Davis persisted and in 1917 became the first African American Red Cross nurse officially approved by the organization. Her nurse’s pin was inscribed with “1-A” on the reverse. The “A” designated the wearer as an African American, and this practice continued until 1949.

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Dr. Charles R. Drew (1904-1950)  –  Medical Pioneer

Anticipating the need for a stockpile of blood reserves if the United States entered World War II, the U.S. government asked the Red Cross to establish a program for blood collection and plasma processing for the military. The pilot center was set up through the Red Cross chapter in New York City and began operations at Presbyterian Hospital in February 1941.

Dr. Charles R. Drew, one of the nation’s foremost physicians and a pioneer in blood collection and plasma processing, was chosen as medical director of the project. This National Blood Donor Service for the military was later expanded to include a blood program for civilians and was the forerunner of today’s Red Cross Blood Services.

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Gwendolyn T. Jackson  –  National Chairman of Volunteers

In 1989 Gwendolyn T. Jackson became the first African American to be appointed Red Cross National Chairman of Volunteers, an office established in 1953. Prior to this appointment, she served as Chairman of the Board and Executive Committee of the Greater Milwaukee Red Cross Chapter.


Holland doubleDr. Jerome H. Holland (1916-1985)  –  American Red Cross Chairman

Dr. Jerome H. Holland, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Sweden from 1970 to 1972, was the first African American to be named Chairman of the American Red Cross. Holland was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. The Chairman, a volunteer, leads the Board of Governors in the governance and oversight of the organization.

During his term as American Red Cross Chairman, Holland took the lead in consolidating the growing laboratory operations of Red Cross Blood Services programs. Because of this, a 110,000 square foot biomedical research and development facility in Rockville, Md., was named the Jerome H. Holland Laboratory for the Biomedical Sciences in his honor.

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Steve Bullock  –  Acting President, American Red Cross

Steve Bullock served as Acting President of the American Red Cross from 1998 to 1999.

In April 1999 he headed a team of staff members and news media who brought 60,000 pounds of relief supplies to Macedonia to aid nearly 140,000 ethnic Albanian refugees driven from their homes in Kosovo.


Learn more about the Red Cross at redcross.org.  Follow Nicholas Lemesh on Twitter, @NickLemesh.

First Aid App: the Cure for Cabin Fever

Shoveling snow? School closed? Making snow angels?

Whether you are heading back into civilization or still hibernating, the American Red Cross First Aid App is an excellent resource for you to have on hand for winter emergencies.

Hypothermia info in first aid app

The free app includes step-by-step instructions, videos and animations on how to handle a variety of first aid situations, from cold weather emergencies like hypothermia and frostbite to sprains and strains due to shoveling snow.

Test your knowledge by taking quizzes and earn badges that you can share on your social networks. You’ll even find severe winter weather safety tips to help keep you and your loved ones safe.

The Hospital Locator is convenient if you are traveling, and the app is fully integrated with 9-1-1 so you can call EMS from the app in an emergency.

Preloaded content (also available in Spanish) allows you to access what you need even without mobile service.

Check out the latest review on the app from The Washington Post and text ‘GETFIRST’ to 90999 or search for ‘American Red Cross’ in your mobile app store to download it.

With just a simple download, you can have expert safety advice at your fingertips!

From the Archives – Letter from a World War I Nurse

From 1914 to 1918, Europe endured the horrors of The Great War, now known as World War I. In recognition of the 100th anniversary of the conflict, “From the Archives” will feature a series of articles on Red Cross involvement in the war.

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Among the many nurses who volunteered to go to Europe to tend to the wounded soldiers was Marie Louise McDowell. McDowell, 34 years old and a resident of Middletown, Del., traveled to France on the SS Chicago in June 1917 as part of American Ambulance, Neuilly-sur-Seine.

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Marie Louise McDowell’s Passport Photo (Courtesy Middletown Historical Society)

She was with American Ambulance hospital that later became American Red Cross Military Hospital No. 1 in Paris, attending mostly French soldiers. McDowell shows her frustration when she writes of not being able to serve in the American Ambulance Hospital in Paris where many Americans were being treated.

“I can scarcely wait to get with the Americans, they need us so badly and its (sic) dreadful to think of our boys not getting all the attention they need.” So she and a colleague put in for a transfer.

A year later, after the United States joined the war, in a letter to her family she talks of now treating American wounded. The following excerpts from her June 17, 1918 letter give insight into the conditions at the time.

McDowell wrote the letter on a Sunday, a day with special perks, when she had “a clean napkin. . .and for lunch. . .either radishes or sardines. . . .”

When McDowell visited the Red Cross tent hospital in Auteuil, France, one man told her the Marines “charged without any barrage or artillery and they stopped the [German soldiers] but at a very great loss.” He said that the Marines “had nothing to eat for days. . .it was open war fair (sic) entirely. . . no trenches.”

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Thanksgiving Day dinner for wounded soldiers with American Red Cross nurses at U.S. American National Red Cross Hospital No. 1, Paris, France, where McDowell served at first. (Courtesy United States History of Medicine, National Institutes of Health)

McDowell was also concerned about giving the French a good impression of America. Since most American movies shown there at that time were Westerns, many of the French would ask her if she was “from New York. . .they think it is the only really civilized part” of America.

Living costs were at the nurses’ own expense. McDowell writes of having to pay to have her new Red Cross suit altered, but that having a “‘carnet rouge’ (or ID card) from the Red Cross gives us military rates on the railroad fare, so it is quite a help.”

The Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918. McDowell chose to stay overseas, and the Red Cross assigned her to the Balkan Commission treating the wounded and ill in northern Serbia.

Shown below is McDowell’s passport application to Serbia. (Courtesy Middletown Historical Society)

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Special thanks to George Content and the Middletown Historical Society, Middletown, Del., for sharing this material with From the Archives.

Find more information on the American Red Cross in World War I on redcross.org.  Follow Nicholas Lemesh on Twitter, @NickLemesh.


Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

The Midway Kansas chapter of American Red Cross recently celebrated 100 years of service to the community with a luncheon for volunteers and staff. The room was decked out with artifacts and memorabilia from the century of service and the program featured stories of ordinary people who faced extraordinary circumstances and became heroes.

One of those heroes included keynote speaker Dave Sanderson. Mr. Sanderson was the last person out of US Airways Flight 1549, also known as “The Miracle on the Hudson.” On January 15, 2009, shortly after takeoff from La Guardia, the flight encountered trouble and the pilot made a remarkable landing on the Hudson River.


“Miracle on the Hudson” flight survivor, Dave Sanderson, speaks at the 100 Year Anniversary volunteer and employee luncheon. Mr. Sanderson had been a passenger on Flight 1549 from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina, when it struck a flock of geese and was forced to make an emergency landing on the Hudson River. The screen shows one of the famous pictures of passengers on the wings of the plane.

In his remarks, Dave Sanderson recounted how, after the pilot and first officer made a hard landing on the river and icy water filled the plane, his mother’s words, “If you do the right thing, God will take care of it,” lent him strength to help get passengers out of the plane.

Once everyone was out of the plane, Mr. Sanderson, who learned to swim as a child through the Red Cross, managed to swim the frigid waters to a waiting ferry. Cold and exhausted, Mr. Sanderson was met at the shore by a Red Cross volunteer with a blanket and EMTs. After a brief stay in the hospital for hypothermia, the Northern New Jersey chapter of the American Red Cross gave him sweats to wear home, and the CEO of the Red Cross chapter in Charlotte was waiting at the airport with his family until Mr. Sanderson could get there.

In the six years since that flight, Mr. Sanderson has dedicated his time to assisting the Red Cross by sharing his harrowing tale and highlighting the extraordinary acts of otherwise “ordinary” people.

One such extraordinary hero honored at the centennial celebration was 12-year old Isabelle Jantz. On January 18, 2014, a then 11-year-old Isabelle was swimming with a friend in a hotel pool. What neither expected was that Isabelle’s lifesaving skills would save that friend’s life.


Red Cross Hero and Certificate of Merit recipient, Isabelle Jantz, and her proud Aunt Michelle with the award Isabelle received for saving her friend’s life.

When Isabelle noticed her friend underwater and in distress, the training she had learned through the Red Cross Learn to Swim program kicked in and she immediately pulled her friend to the surface and over to the edge of the pool. Bystanders called 911 and helped Isabelle get her friend out of the water. Isabelle and the bystanders cared for and reassured her friend until paramedics arrived.

For Isabelle, water safety is an important family affair. Isabelle learned water safety from a family friend, Jessica. Jessica’s mother, Terri, is a former Red Cross volunteer swimming instructor who has taught hundreds of people swimming and water safety skills over the years, including Isabelle’s aunt, Michelle. In turn, Michelle became a Red Cross volunteer swim instructor and taught Isabelle’s father, Jason, how to swim.

These lifesaving skills, combined with those who teach them and those willing to learn and act in times of need, are but one example of how ordinary becomes extraordinary, and we are proud to honor these everyday heroes for their selfless acts.

The Kansas centennial luncheon is one of many annual Red Cross events held across the country in celebration and recognition of the everyday heroes who go above and beyond to bring help and hope to those in need.

Migration & Measles Prevention

Migration and Measles Prevention — Restoring Family Links - Google Chrome 172016 120740 PM.bmpStory by Carmela Burke, American Red Cross Volunteer, Los Angeles, California

Migrants’ stories and photos appear above the newspaper fold line.  Images dominate traditional and social media which draw attention to their harrowing journeys through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.

Rand Corporation analyst Shelly Culbertson cites a staggering statistic from the United Nations Refugee Agency, (UNHCR): “60 million people have been displaced due to war, conflict and persecution—the highest level of displacement in the history of the world.”

In light of current events, the terms “migrant” and “refugee” are used interchangeably referring to people who flee war, conflict and/or persecution.

The American Red Cross continues to work with the global Red Cross and Red Crescent network to meet the needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations, including children.  In the past four years, we have spent and committed more than $2.5 million on relief efforts in Syria and its neighboring countries affected by conflict such as Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.  As the crisis continues, the American Red Cross is providing information management and mapping support to the global operation to ensure that Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies are not responding independently of each other, but rather, have greater situational awareness of the broader crisis. The American Red Cross also provided 10,000 cots to help families in Germany. For more information on the Red Cross response, please click here.

For millions of children, experiencing this level of trauma at such a young age causes developmental consequences.  For a family trying to land on their feet in a new environment, access to adequate education, accommodations, and health care are priorities.  Where do they start?

A joint report from WHO-UNHCR-UNICEF reveals that those most at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases are young children, and that “refugees and migrants be vaccinated against these diseases as a priority in line with national vaccination schedules.”

Help Locally to Protect Children Globally

Launched in 2001, the Measles & Rubella Initiative is a global health partnership led by the American Red Cross, the United Nations Foundation, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The Initiative provides technical and financial support to governments and communities for mass vaccination campaigns and disease surveillance around the world.

As travel between countries—during peacetime or wartime—becomes more frequent, it is even more imperative that we immunize our children against vaccine preventable diseases.  “While some countries have been successful in eliminating certain diseases within their borders, as long as these diseases continue to thrive elsewhere, they are still vulnerable to outbreaks due to risk of importation from other countries,” according to James Noe of the Measles & Rubella Initiative at the American Red Cross.

Using measles as an example, in the United States through a strong vaccination program the disease was eliminated in 2000 with no endemic cases seen since then.  However cases of measles and subsequent outbreaks have been reported regularly within the country with at least 7 recorded outbreaks since 2013.  Through laboratory confirmation and observation, the genotypes of these viruses have been linked to outbreaks in other countries which have travelled across borders, said Noe.  “With a virus as contagious as measles, which has a 90% transmission rate, it is incredibly important to continue to vaccinate children here and abroad to effectively protect them from this deadly disease.”

Cover Your Mouth, Please

Like many who work in the Washington D.C. area and in other major cities around the country, I find commuting to be a bit challenging at times. In recent weeks I’ve contended with everything from missed trains, to delays on the Metro, to sitting next to someone who is coughing without covering their mouth. My commutes seem to be getting louder, in fact, more from the coughing than from talking. While I empathize with those battling a miserable cold, I thought I’d do my part in sharing tips to help us stay healthy this winter!

Think like a vampire: Bring your elbow up to your mouth. Cough into your elbow. Please.


In addition, you can follow these simple steps to help prevent the spread of the flu, including getting a flu shot. They include:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing, and throw the tissue away after use. If a tissue isn’t available, cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands. Don’t do the following…


• Wash hands often, especially after coughing or sneezing. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer.


• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.


• Avoid close contact with people who are sick.


• Stay home if you’re sick.


In Big Ways and Small, Haiti Continues to Recover

This post was written by Jenelle Eli, a member of American Red Cross’s international communications team, who travels often to Haiti.  

Each time I travel to Haiti, I’m amazed by the progress that has been made in between my trips. What was a school under construction this summer was handed over in autumn to the school principal—new desks, chalkboards, latrines, and all. What was a quarter-finished walkway is now a well-trod path for neighborhood residents.

Some months ago, I had the opportunity to travel to Haiti with Gail McGovern, President & CEO of the American Red Cross. While I’ve been coming to Haiti for about two years now, Gail has been traveling here since the earthquake struck. The changes she has seen in those past six years have been striking.

“Every time I come back to Haiti, I see it improve a little. But this time, it is a huge leap,” she told a group of American Red Cross staff members during her trip. That’s not an exaggeration. During a walkabout of Campeche—one of eight neighborhoods benefiting from American Red Cross’s LAMIKA project—those leaps of progress were made abundantly clear.

Newly-constructed stairways replace the steep rocky inclines we had to climb in the past; solar streetlights dot the landscape that was once pitch black at night; houses that were damaged or precarious are now busy, disaster-resistant homes. These are no minor feats. Indeed, the stairways improve accessibility, which creates an environment that is safer and more conducive to economic expansion. The streetlights can prevent crime, enable businesses to stay open later, and even allow kids do their homework after the sun sets.

In the first year after the earthquake, one mother told us that she had used a Red Cross cash grant to buy her daughter a school uniform—a small but important way that her family was returning to normalcy. Now, Campeche is home to this airy and earthquake-safe school, Ecole CEMEAH. Renovated with funds donated to the American Red Cross—it’s one of ten educational facilities to be reconstructed or expanded by the American Red Cross in Campeche and neighborhoods nearby.

Click here to see more photos of the school and meet a student >>

We also visited Canaan—an area of about 200,000 inhabitants that was completely unoccupied before the 2010 earthquake. Now a busy city, its residents are served by a Haitian Red Cross health post, which offers residents access to basic health services and medicine. The American Red Cross is funding that health post and is working with the residents of Canaan to promote safe development and prepare them for future disasters.

As our trip came to a close, Gail offered words about the generous people who made all this progress—and more­—possible, “Anyone who donated to the Red Cross would be so proud of the work I am seeing here.”

For more information about our work in Haiti, visit redcross.org/haiti

The Gift of Life: A Blood Recipient’s Poem of Gratitude

Christi 008In 1998, Christi Mead Nielsen’s life was first touched by American Red Cross blood donors when she had two valves in her heart replaced. Over the next 12 years, she received more than 50 blood transfusions, all from generous volunteer blood donors.

Christi passed away in September 2010 at the age of 47 after many years of complications from heart disease. Her funeral sermon included these words: “Chris found joy in life because she was filled with gratitude.”

The aspiring author’s gratitude extended to the Red Cross blood donors who gave her more time, more life and more stories to tell. Following Christi’s death, her husband, Kim, found the following poem that she once wrote.

The Gift of Life

Someone saved my life today.

I don’t know who they are

or even know their name.

I don’t know if they are male or female

or the color of their eyes or skin or hair.

I don’t know how they make their living

or what they dream of doing when they go out to play.

I don’t know if they believe in God

or just the kindness of strangers.

I don’t know what made them open that door

and leave a part of themselves inside.

I do know their priceless gift was the difference between life and death.

My life. My death.

Without their gift

my husband would be without his wife,

my son without his mother.

People I love would mourn

a sister, a daughter, a friend.

Without their gift

my dreams would have died

unrealized, unshared, unexplored.

But someone saved my life today

with a sacrificial gift of blood.

My family lives together


I live a life of dreams I now make real.

Someone saved my life today.

I don’t know who or where or why.

Whoever you are

I would just like to say

Thank you.

This January, National Blood Donor Month, we join Christi in expressing our gratitude for the volunteers who roll up a sleeve to help patients in need through the Red Cross.

We’re also asking for their generosity again. We have an urgent need for blood and platelet donors of all types to give blood now to help prevent a shortage.

You can help give patients like Christi another reason to be grateful. Please schedule your appointment by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting redcrossblood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

The Ultimate Guide for Winter Weather Safety

As winter hits full stride across the country, the Red Cross offers these winter storm tips to help you safely weather the storms.

(And if you don’t have an emergency kit together, start with that!)

In your house:

pet winter safety

  • If there’s a power outage, go to a designated public shelter to stay warm. 
  • Keep your thermostat at the same setting day and night.
  • Bring pets indoors. If that’s not possible, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm and that they can get to unfrozen water.
  • Run water, even at a trickle, to help stop pipes from freezing. Keep garage doors closed if there are water lines in the garage
  • Before taking on tasks such as shoveling snow, consider your physical condition.
  • Insulate your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.


  • Know the signs of hypothermia – confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. If someone has these symptoms, they should get immediate medical attention.
  • Watch for symptoms of frostbite including numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness or waxy feeling skin.

In the car:WinterStormTips_snowman

  • The safest thing to do during a winter storm is stay off the roads if possible.
  • Winterize your vehicle and keep the gas tank full. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Clean the lights and windows to help you see.
  • If you can, avoid driving in sleet, freezing rain, snow or dense fog. If you have to drive, make sure everyone has their seat belts on and give your full attention to the road. Avoid distractions such as cell phones.
  • If you have to travel, keep a disaster supplies kit in the car.
  • Don’t follow other vehicles too closely. Sudden stops are difficult on snowy roadways.
  • Don’t use cruise control when driving in winter weather.
  • Don’t pass the snow plow truck.
  • Find out what the weather is where you are traveling. Before you leave, let someone know where you are going, the route you plan to take, and when you expect to get there. If your car gets stuck, help can be sent along your predetermined route.

If you’re stuck in the car:Slide1

  • If someone does get stuck, stay with the car. Do not try to walk to safety. (Unless, of course, you can see a heated building that you can safely get to)
  • Tie a brightly colored cloth (preferably red) to the antenna for rescuers to see.
  • Start the car and use the heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Keep the exhaust pipe clear so fumes won’t back up in the car.
  • Leave the overhead light on when the engine is running to help rescuers see the vehicle.
  • Keep one window away from the blowing wind slightly open to let in air.

Out in the cold:

  • Dressing in several layers of lightweight clothing keeps someone warmer than a single heavy coat.
  • Mittens provide more warmth to the hands than gloves. Wear a hat, preferably one that covers the ears.
  • Wear waterproof, insulated boots to keep feet warm and dry and to maintain one’s footing in ice and snow.

Remember, when temperatures drop and winter storms roll in, check on your elderly neighbors and help those who may need special assistance, including people with disabilities and children.

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