Keeping her promise to save lives

Three months ago, Jenapher Blair made a promise to give blood. After being on the receiving end of blood donation following the birth of her child, Jenapher hoped to become a blood donor herself.

Feeling a little emotional and filled with anticipation, Jenapher and her husband Steve arrived for her appointment at an American Red Cross blood drive in Hutchinson, Minn. on Nov. 9. “I’m wondering where my blood will go and who it’s going to help – I’ll be watching my blood donor app to follow the journey of my donation,” said Jenapher.

First-time blood donor Jenapher Blair rolled up a sleeve at a Red Cross drive on Nov. 9, 2021.

In just a little over five minutes, Jenapher’s donation was finished and she proudly held her blood bag close to her heart. “Wow, I can’t believe how quick that was – it’s such a great feeling to know that I’m going to help make a difference for someone, just like the people who’s blood I received did for me and my family!”

Jenapher Blair holding baby Adalyn with her husband and children.

Everything was going well…until it wasn’t

Following the birth of baby Adalyn in July, Jenapher started to hemorrhage and was losing blood quickly. It was a matter of life and death. Doctors couldn’t control her bleeding and the nearest blood was 80 miles away. The hospital called the Red Cross and in-turn the Minnesota State Patrol was immediately contacted to help rush four units of type O-negative blood to the hospital.

The lifesaving blood was delivered in just 65 minutes. Doctors told Jenapher “we were on borrowed time while waiting for the blood to arrive” and that she would not have survived had the blood arrived even minutes later.

Grateful and giving back

Jenapher left the blood drive pumping her fist in the air with excitement and thanking everyone in the room for giving the gift of life.

“Paying it forward doesn’t stop here for me,” she said. “It’s more personal. I want to be an example for my kids. We want to do our part and spread the word about the need and help get the numbers up because I realize how important it is to have blood available – if I hadn’t received the blood I needed, things could be very different.”

An exuberant Jenapher Blair after donating blood for the first time.

Jenapher, Steve, and their kids are also gamers who are raising funds through Mission Red, the official gaming and streaming charity program of the Red Cross. Learn more here or join their fundraising campaign TheOasisFam.

“The more we can do to be advocates for the lifesaving mission of the Red Cross, the better!”

Story by Sue Thesenga, American Red Cross. To find a blood drive near you click here.

St. James showing thanks through blood donation

On Thanksgiving Day, people from St. James and surrounding areas will continue their annual tradition of showing thanks through blood donation. This blood drive, now in its 17th year, collects the most blood of any American Red Cross Thanksgiving Day community-sponsored drive in the U.S.

“It’s really amazing that our annual Thanksgiving Day blood drive is the largest in the country!”

Diane Dannen, St. James resident and long-time Red Cross blood program volunteer.
2020, Red Cross phlebotomists collected nearly 200 units of lifesaving blood at the annual St. James Thanksgiving Day Blood Drive. Photo credit: American Red Cross

The drive will take place on Thursday, Nov. 25, at the National Guard Armory, 521 Armstrong Blvd. N., from 7:30 to 11:30 a.m. This year, more than 50 Red Cross staff and volunteers will be on hand to help run the drive. Donors of all blood types – especially type O – are urged to make an appointment to help overcome the current blood shortage.

“This blood drive comes at a critical time for the Red Cross,” says Leah Pockrandt, Executive Director for the American Red Cross serving Southwest Minnesota. “It’s essential to shore up the nation’s blood supply as we move into the holiday season, especially while we have an ongoing national blood shortage.”

Rolling up a sleeve on Thanksgiving morning has become a holiday tradition for many over the past 16 years – collecting nearly 3,200 blood donations that have helped ensure a stable blood supply over the holiday season. Keeping on with the tradition, all presenting blood donors will be thanked with an exclusive pair of Red Cross holiday socks and a pumpkin pie courtesy of SuperFair Foods, while supplies last.

“It’s really amazing that our annual Thanksgiving Day blood drive is the largest in the country!” says Diane Dannen, St. James resident and long-time Red Cross blood program volunteer. “We should be very proud that our community continues this tradition and gives back in such a meaningful way. I’m incredibly thankful for everyone who makes giving the gift of life a priority during the holiday season.”

“We are thankful for the giving spirit of the St. James community who have made this Thanksgiving Day blood drive successful year after year. Blood donation is essential to ensuring the health of our communities, and volunteer donors are the only source of blood for those in need,” adds Pockrandt.  

Not in the St. James area on Thanksgiving? Healthy individuals who are feeling well are urged to make an appointment to donate blood this holiday season. Find a convenient blood drive near you by visiting RedCrossBlood.org, using the Red Cross Blood Donor App or calling 1-800-RED-CROSS.  

From Army Correspondent to Red Cross Volunteer – A 48-Year journey

Military veterans have a critical role in their local communities, often times continuing to serve in both small and large ways.

Take the example of David Schoeneck who uses skills he learned early in his career to continue serving through the American Red Cross. In September 1964, while a freshman in college, he began working as a reporter and photographer for his hometown newspaper – the New Ulm Daily Journal in southern Minnesota. Four and a half years later, after graduating from Minnesota State University in Mankato, he was drafted into the U.S. Army.

He served a tour of duty with the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, first as a combat correspondent and later as editor of the Division’s weekly newspaper, The Ivy Leaf. He returned to the U.S. and was discharged in July 1970.

Veteran David (Dave) Schoeneck served a tour of duty with the 4th Infantry Division in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam. Submitted photo.

Back in civilian life, Schoeneck worked in public relations and communications as a manager and director for a number of Minnesota-based corporations. Upon retirement in 2002, he was approached by a long-time friend, David Therkelsen, who was serving as executive director of the Red Cross St. Paul Chapter.

“David explained to me that the Red Cross had very important public affairs activity during disasters, as well as on-going public affairs needs,” Schoeneck said. “I had been actively involved in community affairs as part of my work, and working with the Red Cross very much appealed to me.”

Since joining the Red Cross 20 years ago, Schoeneck has been involved in local public affairs responses, supporting countless home and apartment fires, floods in various parts of Minnesota, four tornado responses in the state and six national deployments. He has worked as a Red Cross public affairs service associate, supervisor or manager for Hurricanes Irene, Sandy, Mathew, Harvey and Florence, as well as during the eastern Washington state wildfires.

Since joining the Red Cross 20 years ago, David Schoeneck has been involved in countless national and local public affairs responses during disasters. Submitted photo.

In 2015, Schoeneck was invited to join the Red Cross National Advanced Public Affairs Team (APAT). More recently, he was selected to join the Red Cross North Central Division’s Disaster Resource Management Team (DRMT), which provides qualified and experienced management teams to supplement local resources when larger scale disasters occur.

“The fundamental principles of the Red Cross – humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality – appealed to me,” Schoeneck said. “It fit very well with my belief that everyone needs to give back to the community and serve others. Working with the Red Cross also allows me to use the skills I have developed over many years in a very positive way.”

“The Red Cross is an amazing organization. It aids victims of home fires and other smaller disasters on a local level, but also comes together when needed to answer the call for large scale disasters such as Hurricanes Florence and Michael,” Schoeneck noted. “In addition to disaster services, the Red Cross has a long-standing role in providing service to our Armed Forces.”

David Schoeneck – Red Cross volunteer for 20 years. Submitted photo.

“I have met and been privileged to work with wonderful people from all over the United States, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Canada who, as part of the Red Cross, respond to disasters. Their spirit of service and dedication is very inspiring. Many of the Red Cross volunteers I have met are also veterans who continue to serve their country and community, long after their active military duty ended.”

A version of this story originally was published on the Red Cross Chat. To learn more about Red Cross volunteer opportunities, click here.

Thankful for Red Cross, thankful for each other

Two volunteers begin anew together after meeting on disaster deployment

Few people can say they met their beloved while helping people seeking refuge from a wildfire. Among them are Danielle Rodgers and Rod Winters – two American Red Cross volunteers.

They met in 2018 during one of the worst years for wildfires in California’s recent history. That year the Red Cross responded to multiple wildfires in the West.

Red Cross volunteers Rod and Danielle.

Danielle was new to the Red Cross. She’d just left her professional nursing role after 27 years when she got the call for her first major disaster relief deployment.

Rod was an experienced volunteer who was called to deploy in his regular role managing shelter relief for people displaced during disasters.

Both were sent from separate and distant states to the California mountain town of Weaverville – the “belly of the beast” as Danielle describes it – to help people affected by the Carr Fire. There, they met for the first time at the co-ed shelter for disaster responders.

“I just thought he was a really nice guy,” Danielle says upon reflection.

She’s referring to his exceptional ability to focus on people – strangers from all walks of life – who need help during some of the most difficult days of their lives. “I just couldn’t imagine where people like him came from.”

The Seattle area, it turned out, and known for asking shelter workers, especially those facing the powerful experience of their first national deployment, ‘why are you here?’.

Weaverville, California, where Red Cross had a shelter for people seeking refuge during the 2018 Carr Fire evacuations.

“Deployment can be extremely uncomfortable, rough conditions, hard,” Rod says now and said, in similar words, then. “Did you come here to take care of people? Focus on the purpose – be clear on your own motivation – deal with some hardship.”

He provided insight and context that helped Danielle navigate an intensity of situation many, including an experienced nurse, could find challenging their personal grit and resiliency.

“The first couple of days are always – be cool, deal with the first couple days until you get your assignment – then things settle out. Thankfully she stayed,” he says.

Their Weaverville deployments came to end. “We both went home and went about our lives,” she says.

“It just kind of deepens as you go along,” says Rod. “It was a fortunate meeting for us. I’m very lucky to have this wonderful woman.”

Danielle and Rod in Weaverville, CA, for their wedding ceremony.

This year they married. For their wedding, they returned to Weaverville and had a small ceremony at Trinity High School, which gave them use of a courtyard, chairs and a table. “It was perfect,” says Danielle. When friends and family asked, ‘why there’, she told them about the impact the town had on them and the perspective it provided.

While there for their wedding, two wildfires started raging. Roads were blocked just like the year they met. “It was difficult to see and hear,” Danielle remembers.

They didn’t have their Red Cross responder gear. But if they’d had it, it’s likely they’d have turned their celebration into doing everything towards alleviating human suffering in the face of emergencies.

Story by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross. Photos provided by Danielle and Rod.

Let’s Kick Cancer’s Butt

Blood donors can help ‘Barrett the Brave’ and other children with cancer

Barrett has needed multiple blood and platelet transfusions during cancer treatment.

“Today my baby’s health was improved because someone gave blood,” wrote Abby Gregory on June 4 in his CaringBridge journal when Barrett received his first transfusion. This was a couple months after she found “a lump the size of a grape” in her son Barrett’s cheek this spring.

The lump – in a muscle – is a rare and serious form of pediatric cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. Barrett – not yet two years old when diagnosed – started several weeks later on a brutal treatment plan of chemotherapy, radiation, and possibly surgery, over a 12-to 14-month period.

“We’re fighting for his life, which is still hard for me to wrap my head around,” says Abby.

Part of this fight for a boy “who loves trucks, shovels and his mom and dad” has involved multiple, hours-long transfusions of red blood cells and platelets during a time of shortages across the country. Both are often critical for giving lifesaving strength and time to patients enduring aggressive treatments against cancer.

Barrett’s first transfusion was the day before his second birthday – when he was in the hospital with his platelets and red blood cell counts too low. “It was overall fairly simple but, for some reason felt extra scary to us. But I guess all of this is scary,” says Abby.

“Barrett the Brave”

In October, Barret completed 28 proton radiation treatments and during this time he’s needed more lifesaving transfusions. He’s a brave boy experiencing great physical suffering, but “he’s keeping us smiling even through the pain,” says Abby.

Abby holds Barrett during chemo.

Barrett will need more transfusions to keep his red blood cell count high enough for more chemotherapy treatments during the coming months.

Grateful for blood and platelet donors, Barrett’s mom encourages people to donate or host a blood drive. Witnessing her son’s bravery, Abby asks for others to donate blood or platelets to help “kick cancer’s butt.”

Visit redcrossblood.org to schedule your blood donation appointment.

Story by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross; Photos courtesy of Barrett’s family. Visit Barrett’s CaringBridge journal here. #BraveBarrett

Every second counts during a cardiac arrest. Students and adults can save lives by knowing how to perform CPR and use an automated external defibrillator (AED).

Take the example of Dickinson High School student Anika Sayler in North Dakota. She learned CPR during her freshman PE 9 class. Learn more about the class and Sayler’s response to an emergency from a story published in The Dickinson Press in last spring.

Story and photos by Jackie Jahfetson, The Dickinson Press

When a Dickinson teen stumbled upon the scene of a rollover crash on April 19, she immediately hopped out of her vehicle and rushed over to one of the individuals who was lying on the ground and unresponsive. Though another person who arrived at the scene before her was performing CPR, she knew that it was not the correct way she was taught in her freshman PE 9 class. So she mustered the confidence to take over and save that man’s life.

With a short video from the American Red Cross, a Dickinson High School freshman performs CPR during Tina Pavlicek’s PE 9 class Friday, April 23, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press) 

Though Dickinson High School junior Anika Sayler noted in a previous article that she never believed she’d use those skills she learned her freshman year, it was evident that the course is teaching students with valuable and natural instincts.

For Dickinson High School teacher Tina Pavlicek, who’s been teaching PE 9 for the past 14 years, hearing Sayler’s lifesaving story was inspirational.

“I personally enjoy teaching it because I feel like it’s such valuable information,” Pavlicek said. “… (Sayler’s story) gave me a really great feeling knowing that she used something that she learned in our freshman CPR course and had the confidence to do that and save that man’s life. I got emotional telling the class about it because it’s really a great thing.”

PE 9 is a required course for all Dickinson High School freshmen that is taught by Pavlicek and DHS teacher Tom Gray. The CPR unit consists of a 10-day lesson plan with seven chapters, with Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays focusing on CPR, and Tuesdays and Thursdays are gym activities. Stretching the material into different days allows for students to retain the information, Pavlicek said, adding that she does not want the course to be an information overload.

Chapters one through four highlight the “before giving care,” which includes CPR, using automated external defibrillators and handling choking situations. Toward the end of the nine-week quarter-long course, students will study sudden illnesses, such as diabetic emergencies, seizures, strokes and allergic reactions, and learn how to deal with burns, external severe bleeding and injuries to muscles, bones and joints. The final chapter covers heat- and cold-related illnesses and other environmental emergencies such as poisonings, bites and stings.

“Usually we’ll do a reading of a chapter out loud; there’s video clips through the American Red Cross that we’re required to show throughout the reading. And then we get the mannequins out and they get to do the hands-on portion as well,” Pavlicek said. “So they get to hear it, they get to see it and they get to practice it, which I feel is a good way to hit all of the learning styles.”

A freshman student at Dickinson High School walks through the tutorial of CPR Friday, April 23, 2021, during PE 9 class. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press) 
Utilizing skills learned through Dickinson High School Tina Pavlicek’s PE 9 course, freshman students perform CPR on mannequin Friday, April 23, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press) 

This course teaches people to handle stressful, emergency situations, and it’s something that will stick with DHS freshman Isabel Kirsch.

“(This helps) knowing what to do under pressure (and if) you see something happen really fast. Before I wouldn’t really know what to do, I’d just panic. But I know what kind of steps to follow,” Kirsch said. “I think (when) you’re at the age where you can start taking care of younger kids more or your grandparents (and) if something were to happen, you’ll know what to do.”

DHS freshman Jake Skabo has learned over the course of nine weeks the basic signs and symptoms of knowing when and when not to perform CPR.

“(I’ve enjoyed) working on the mannequins out there because I like to do hands-on learning,” Skabo said.

Once students finish the course, the American Red Cross requires that all students have to pass all six tests with an 80% or higher and perform all of the skill portions of the class. Students then have the option at the end of the program to pay $32 for a CPR card and become certified, which is good for two years until recertification.

With usually around 50 students each quarter, five to 10 students pay to get their certification. Though Pavlicek doesn’t encounter a large number of students who want to get CPR certified, she noted that at least students will still be trained in it.

“Just like Anika’s story, you never know when you’re going to be in a situation where you may need it. It may be a family member, it might be a stranger along the roadside that needs your help. It’s just a lot of information or giving them the confidence to be able to respond in an emergency situation if it occurs,” Pavlicek added.

This story was originally published on April 26, 2021. It’s re-published here with permission from the The Dickinson Press. Thank you! We encourage all who are able to learn basic lifesaving skills. Learn more here.

Fall 2021 Sickle Cell Initiative Blood Drive

Our profound thanks to everyone who supported our Sickle Cell Initiative blood drive on September 25 at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in North Minneapolis. We had a great turn out – collected 51 units! Many thanks to Sickle Cell Initiative local partners and sponsors, including HealthPartners, Sickle Cell Foundation of Minnesota, Black Nurses Rock Twin Cities Chapter, Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, Epsilon Rho Chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and KMOJ. A diverse blood supply every day helps sickle cell patients in crisis. Learn more.

One of two Red Cross buses, including the regional fleet’s newest, supported the blood drive. In total, 55 people, including 17 new donors, presented to donate. 51 units were collected on the two buses.
Precious, a new Red Cross volunteer and a recent college graduate, checked in donors as they arrived throughout the day at Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church in North Minneapolis.
Twin Cities Red Cross board chair, Dr. David Hamlar, helped plan the drive and donated blood. “There’s more work to do,” he says. We’re grateful for his ongoing support for this long-term initiative.
Epsilon Rho Chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity helped organize the blood drive and encouraged people, especially first-time donors, to roll up a sleeve for sickle cell and other patients in need of blood transfusion.
Community partners like Rae (l) with the Sickle Cell Foundation of Minnesota and Beverly (r), a Red Cross volunteer who’s also with Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, are critical for blood drive success.

20 Years On: Remembering 9/11

By Melanie Tschida – American Red Cross Minnesota and Dakotas Region

Like most people, I remember exactly where I was on September 11, 2001 when I heard the news of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. I was at the Red Cross office in Rochester, Minnesota, and within minutes of receiving that first phone call, we were all watching the coverage on television, unable to believe what we were seeing but unable to stop watching. 

It was unsettling at best to realize our country was under attack. We cried for the innocent victims and feared what targets were next. 

And then, in true Red Cross fashion, we got to work. Because even though this was not a typical disaster, people started calling our office to see how they could help. Donors lined up outside to give blood. Financial donations poured in, from children donating their allowance to corporations making six-figure gifts.  

My most vivid memory of those initial days and weeks, however, were the volunteers who came forward and asked us to send them to help.

We sent dozens of volunteers to New York, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon – some were our seasoned folks who had been to many disaster operations, and some were new to us but had experience in providing psychological support. I remember a profound sense of gratitude for these volunteers who set aside everything else and rushed to get there so they could provide the care and comfort we knew was so desperately needed as our nation was grieving.  

It was such a difficult time but I also recall feeling so blessed that I was in a position to help, and to see the best in people as they gave so freely of their personal gifts in response to this tragic event.  

Much has changed in the Red Cross in the last twenty years. Our programs and methods of delivery have evolved considerably, but some things have not changed – the most important being our unwavering commitment to providing comfort and care to every person in need of our services. I remain deeply grateful for the gift of being in a position to see the best in people as they come forward to donate their time and personal resources to help others.  

September 12, 2001. New York City, New York. Terrorist attack at the World Trade Center. Photo by Daniel Cima/American Red Cross

Cis Big Crow Recognized for 20 Years of Red Cross Service

Cis Big Crow (center) is the 2021 Volunteer of the Year for the American Red Cross serving Central and Western South Dakota.

Volunteering comes naturally to Cis Big Crow, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and an American Red Cross volunteer. “I guess volunteering just grew on me. And I didn’t realize how many years I was with the Red Cross,” she says.

Since 1999, when a deadly tornado struck the Pine Ridge Reservation, Big Crow has been a Red Cross volunteer assisting reservation residents affected by tornados, storms, floods and other natural disasters. She has helped Tribal members reach critical aid, assisting them with filling out emergency forms and connecting them with housing, food and other types of disaster relief.

Big Crow works in the Oglala Sioux President’s Office, which previously was the place people called when there was an emergency on the reservation, such as a house fire. The Tribe now has a dedicated emergency management team, she says. But Big Crow is still the point person people call when they need help when disasters happen. She ensures they get in touch with Tribal emergency management and the Red Cross.

In the past, Big Crow has filled a variety of roles during Red Cross disaster responses, such as setting up temporary shelters, preparing meals for people and finding temporary housing for them. During the past twenty-plus years, she’s become an essential disaster action team member for the Red Cross in South Dakota, responding to an estimated 300 local disasters.

Big Crow is the 2021 Volunteer of the Year for the American Red Cross serving Central and Western South Dakota

“Cis has been an exceptional volunteer,” says Richard Smith, executive director of the American Red Cross serving Central and Western South Dakota. “Cis is always positive and upbeat, even in difficult situations. Her guidance in working with the Oglala Sioux people and the Tribal council is invaluable.”

Big Crow has no plans to stop . Asked what keeps her going, Big Crow said she finds joy in assisting people in need. “You’re out there to help people,” she says.

New volunteers are always needed, especially with busy disaster seasons happening more frequently. People interested in applying for local opportunities should visit redcross.org/mndaks.

Story by Blair Emerson/American Red Cross

First-Time Blood Donor : “Each of us was going to save lives.”

“It was the thing to do!” 

“My parents donated and inspired me to give.” 

“To help fill a need!” 

“It was always on my ‘bucket list’ to make a donation.” 

The different responses given by American Red Cross blood donors show there’s no uniform reason that sparks their first donation. Personally, I had not found my reason until several weeks ago. Prior to that, the only time blood donations had been brought up in my life was by a friend who, despite nearly passing out at the mention of needles, would be back at a donation center every couple of months. I would always ask why she would put herself in that situation, and her answer would always be similar to that of other donors – she wanted to help. 

Only a couple of hours after scheduling my donation time, I was answering questions at the center and beginning the donation process. I spent the ten minutes it took to fill the bag by looking around the room. All of the Red Cross members working the drive as well as the donors were radiating positivity, despite the needles in their arms, and I found that I, too, could only think of the overwhelming good that everyone’s presence in the room was doing. No matter each person’s unique background or reason for being there, each of us was going to save lives.  

The couple hours that had passed from deciding to schedule my appointment to leaving the donation center had flown by, but had filled me with a new understanding of the simple answers people give when asked why they donated blood. There did not have to be one significantly motivating event that got the donors there. They had just wanted to help.  

“No matter each person’s unique background or reason for being there, each of us was going to save lives.”

If there could be one reason to broadly represent all of the donors who have shared why they donate, this would be it. I had always understood the basis of this when people said it, but the realization of what blood donations do for real people – not to mention the impact on the families and friends of the recipients – made the statement “wanting to help” much bigger.  

Due to the severe blood shortage, people all over the country have had to wait to receive blood transfusions or have not received them at all. Not receiving the proper blood transfusions takes away significant parts of people’s lives, but each donor’s decision to donate gives the opportunity to change that for at least one person. There’s no reason too small to motivate this. 

Story by Julia Clingen – American Red Cross Volunteer