Blood donors can help ‘Barrett the Brave’ and other children with cancer
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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
Donations needed to overcome national blood shortage and help prevent delays in crucial patient care
While it may be easy to lose sight of where your blood flows after you leave the donation center or a blood drive, others can clearly see the exact implications of blood donations.
Brent Danzeisen is a donor that feels these impacts within his family. Brent had donated blood in the past and began again when his wife, Shari, started receiving weekly blood transfusions due to cancer treatments. Brent may have felt as many other donors do – knowing that their blood helps someone, somewhere. Now, the final destination of a blood donation’s journey is very relevant to Brent and his family.
Shari usually receives two transfusions weekly of 1-2 units, but recently was only able to receive 1 unit due to the national severe blood shortage. “Better than nothing!” Brent says. While being able to receive 1 unit of blood is still valuable, it may not provide Shari with the same energy that 2 units would.
Brent credits Shari’s blood transfusions for making many meaningful moments possible. “With the transfusions she receives, she was able to attend the Confirmation of our daughter this spring and has been able to attend our two boys’ baseball games so far this summer.” The quick and easy experiences Brent has had donating blood have certainly provided other families with similar moments.
“I would like to say to anyone who is thinking about it, just do it!” urges Brent, and donating blood really is as simple as that. “Half hour every other month is not a huge time commitment to help save a life or to give someone the opportunity to see their kids’ ball game or other major life event.”
The possibilities of what blood donations do down the road may seem difficult to picture, but for families like Brent and Shari’s they are anything but that. Shari’s blood transfusions are given her more time with her family.
As Brent has put it, “Thank you to all the donors, for without you the Red Cross would have no blood to give [Shari]!”
“It’s time to donate blood again,” reads the message on his vintage Red Cross T-shirt, speaks to his moment: Stuart is back, helping others have time together in the midst of cancer treatment or other traumatic events that touch so many of us. He has time and good health so he wants to help anyway he can.
“It’s been a while,” says Stuart Anderson while starting his platelet donation at the Red Cross Blood Donation Center in Minneapolis. For years he donated, starting in 1984, but then time passed and he got busy, like most of us.
Then tragedy happened. Stuart’s son developed cancer, specifically a brain tumor in the midst of being fully alive and studying to be an oncologist. “We had a few years together after his diagnosis,” says Stuart. Donated platelets for cancer treatment helped give them time. “I talked to him every day.” His son died six years ago at 30 years old.
More motivation comes from his own need for blood after falling out of a tree when he was a child. His wife and daughter have received blood, too.
Just steps away from the Mississippi River, a team works inside the Red Cross donation center to help Stuart and other donors be comfortable during a process that can take, on average, around two hours. Blankets keep them warm and movies keep them entertained. Stuart is patient while a phlebotomist adjusts his donation lines.
This Navy veteran served years in active duty and in the reserves. While getting his platelet donation underway, he recalled turning to the Red Cross for emergency financial assistance when he was a young recruit and newly married. “We were living off base,” he says, “and got a loan, $250, to help us.”
“Great people at the Red Cross,” he says. “Thanks for all you do.” We’d like to say thank you to Stuart and to all who donate to help patients in need. His return is a great reminder for donors who’ve been away for a while to make time. It’s super easy to make an appointment via the Red Cross Blood Donor App, which also allows you to follow your donation journey.
Story and photos: Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross
Sunday, June 6, is National Cancer Survivors Day, and we’re celebrating Myel. In August 2016, Myel received an unexpected and life-changing medical diagnosis. What she thought was an infection from a mosquito bite was actually stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer.
Myel’s treatment included chemo. She needed the support of platelet & plasma transfusions during her treatment. The need for blood products in cancer care is important & often untold. Patients may need blood products regularly due to chemo side effects or surgery complications.
After months of treatment, Myel was told her cancer was in remission in February 2017. “I was more than excited because I survived. I won, and it was time to get my life back! This couldn’t defeat me,” she says.
Myel knows the important role blood products had in helping her get through treatment & encourages others to give. “Everyone needs someone, and this is your time to help someone who needs your blood or platelets. Be a blessing. A pint of blood can help save lives.”
You might not be able to change a cancer diagnosis or treatment, but you can help those going through it by donating blood or platelets. Join the Red Cross and American Cancer Society and make your appointment to #GiveBloodToGiveTime at rcblood.org/3bYtlqn.
According to the American Cancer Society, many patient visits and procedures were forced to delay or cancel early in the pandemic to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19. With procedures resuming, blood donations are critical for cancer treatments. Unfortunately, the Red Cross is seeing fewer blood and platelet donors give as the nation begins to climb out of this pandemic. This downturn comes at a time when the Red Cross continues to see strong demand for blood products − including platelets − by hospitals, causing concern for the sufficiency of the blood supply this month and throughout the summer.
We currently have an emergency need for eligible donors to make an appointment now to give platelets to ensure critical patient needs are met. Platelets, the clotting portion of blood primarily given to cancer patients during treatment, must be transfused within five days of donation and, therefore, are always in great demand.
“Many cancer patients, especially those going through chemotherapy, will have a need for blood products during treatment,” says Dr. Baia Lasky, medical director for the Red Cross. “When someone donates blood or platelets, they may not only help prevent life-threatening bleeding that can cause stroke or relieve some symptoms, like shortness of breath and headaches, but also give patients and their families the time and hope they need to fight back.”
Some types of chemotherapy can damage bone marrow, reducing red blood cell and platelet production. Other times, the cancer itself or surgical procedures cause the need for blood products. About six blood products are needed every minute to help someone going through cancer treatment. Yet only 3% of people in the U.S. give blood. It is vital that more people donate blood and platelets regularly to meet that need.
After back-to-back years of record-breaking wildfires, this year it’s more critical than ever to get ready now. Like the home and apartment fires we respond to every day, wildfires are dangerous and can spread quickly, giving you only minutes to evacuate.
Getting ready is easy with four steps.
Create an evacuation plan. Include in your plan what to do in case you’re separated from your family during an emergency and for evacuation. Coordinate your plan with your child’s school, your work and your community’s emergency plans. Plan multiple routes to local shelters, register family members with special medical needs as required and make plans for pets. If you already have an emergency plan, talk about it again with family members so everyone knows what to do when an emergency occurs.
Build an emergency kit. Include a gallon of water per person, per day, non-perishable food, a flashlight, battery-powered radio, first aid kit, medications, supplies for an infant if applicable, a multi-purpose tool, personal hygiene items, copies of important papers, cell phone chargers, extra cash, blankets, maps of the area and emergency contact information. Because of the pandemic, include a mask for everyone in your household. If you already have a disaster kit, now is the time make sure the food and water is still okay to consume and that copies of important documents are up to date.
Be informed. Find out how local officials will contact you during a wildfire emergency and how you will get important information, such as evacuation orders.
Download the Red Cross Emergency App. Our free emergency app will help keep you and your loved ones safe with real-time alerts, open Red Cross shelter locations and safety advice on wildfires and other emergencies. To download the app, search for ‘American Red Cross’ in your app store or text “GETEMERGENCY” to 90999.
In addition to preparedness, take steps to prevent wildfires.
Don’t drive your vehicle onto dry grass or brush. Hot components under your vehicle can spark fires.
Use equipment responsibly. Lawn mowers, chain saws, tractors and trimmers can all spark a wildfire.
Use caution any time you use fire. Dispose of charcoal briquettes and fireplace ashes properly, never leave any outdoor fire unattended, and make sure that outdoor fires are fully extinguished before leaving the area.
If residential debris burning is allowed — use caution. After obtaining any necessary permits, ensure that burning is not currently restricted in your area.
Store combustible or flammable materials in approved safety containers away from the house.
Find an outdoor water source, such as a pond, well, even a swimming pool, and have a hose that can reach any area of your property.
Create a fire-resistant zone free of leaves, debris or flammable materials for at least 30 feet out from your home.
Regularly clean roofs and gutters.
Make sure driveway entrances and your house number are clearly marked so fire vehicles can get to your home.