Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota Region Blog
Author: American Red Cross
The American Red Cross provides relief to victims of disasters and helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Our Red Cross region serves more than 7.5 million people across Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
We have the great pleasure of announcing that Hunter Conrad, from southeast Minnesota, has received an American Red Cross Certificate of Merit. This award is the highest award the Red Cross gives to an individual who saves or sustains a life by using skills and knowledge learned in a Red Cross Training Services course. The certificate bears the signature of the President of the United States, who is the honorary chairman of the American Red Cross.
Hunter demonstrated heroic efforts on October 4, 2022, when he helped save the life of a cyclist who suffered a cardiac emergency in Dundas, Minnesota. On that day, he was driving down a rural back road when he came upon a group of cyclists who waved for him to stop. One of the cyclists had suddenly lost consciousness and fallen off his bike. Hunter sprang into action, assisting the cyclist in distress. With another member of the group, they alternated administering CPR until EMS arrived and took over. The cyclist was then airlifted to a hospital and later recovered.
Hunter was a true hero because he was trained to respond. More than 350,000 people suffer cardiac arrest every year – but sadly only 11% survive. Are you prepared for the moments that matter? Find the right class for you at redcross.org/mndaks.
Meet our newest (and cutest) Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) volunteer in the Minnesota and Dakotas Region. This certified Golden Retriever Therapy Dog joins owners Dan and Kathie Brusseau, and Dillion, their first therapy dog, to bring joy, positive energy and smiles to everyone they meet.
Since 2020, the Brusseau’s have been valuable members of our SAF team. You might recall first meeting Dillion in 2021 when he visited hospitalized veterans who were experiencing high levels of isolation during the pandemic.
The newly formed foursome are now spreading double the love and kindness. They visit various locations in central and western South Dakota including the Rapid City Airport, Fort Meade Veterans Affairs Clinic in Sturgis, South Dakota, and attend other military-related events across the region.
“Their goal is to provide comfort and happiness to someone’s day,” says Richard Felix, Red Cross Regional Program Manager, Service to the Armed Forces. “Whether they are comforting high stressed travelers at the airport or providing a gentle interaction with a Veteran at the clinic, the Brusseau’s and their therapy dogs provide an exceptional service to our community.”
Felix adds, “These four are such a blessing and valuable part of our SAF team, spreading kindness everywhere they go!”
Across the country and around the globe, American Red Cross therapy dogs use their time and talent to serve the community in unique ways. They comfort disaster survivors who may have lost everything after a storm, veterans receiving medical care at hospitals, and military families in need of support before, during and/or after deployment.
Be sure to give Archie a Red Cross welcome!
Click here to learn more about how the Red Cross helps service members, veterans and their families.
“I’m super grateful for people who gave blood and made it possible for me to live…”
The phrase “saved by blood” was something I always associated with a great Easter sermon – that is, until a stranger’s blood literally saved my life 35 years ago. Gratefully, that person cared enough to be a donor, and doing so, saved two lives on that fateful day.
I was a 23-year old soon-to-be mother of a new baby girl, and unlike so many other expectant mothers, I loved being pregnant! I loved the feeling of life inside me as she squirmed and kicked and reminded me that she was coming. I loved making baby blankets and spending long hours oohing and aahing over the baby girl clothes in the discount store near our home. My husband and I talked often and excitedly about the day when she would finally join our little family.
One beautiful early June afternoon, I could feel the summer sun calling to me. Our two-year old son, Matt, was as thrilled as I was to be going on a long walk, and our hearts were light as we made our way toward the duck pond that we often frequented.
Matt tightly held the breadcrumb bag and chattered energetically as we walked along. Then the moment he could see the pond, he begged to get down. I lifted him out of the stroller, taking a mental picture of his radiant face as he enthusiastically bounded toward the ducks. “Duckie, duckie,” he called, as he went. From their reaction, I’m pretty sure that they were as happy about his visit as he was to be there.
After he had emptied his bread bag, I lifted him again to put him back in the stroller. It was then that I felt the muscles pull in a strange way across my swollen belly. It didn’t feel right. There wasn’t much I could do about it in that moment, except to slow my pace as I gingerly made my way back home. The stroller felt much heavier than it had before, and I knew I needed to be off my feet as soon as possible.
A few hours later, I found myself in an emergency room, losing blood so fast that even the medical staff seemed worried. I had a condition known as placenta previa, something that had taken the life of many an expectant mother through the years. Apparently, the combination of the long walk pushing a stroller, and lifting our little son in and out of it, had put extra pressure on the womb, and caused the bleeding to start. And it didn’t seem to be slowing or stopping.
One of the many worries in this equation was that our baby girl still needed another 10 weeks in the womb in order to survive. Our neonatologist was particularly scared, given that our daughter also had an open spine and would need surgery right after birth. Our obstetrician was worried – and we were terrified.
The next 24 hours passed like a bad dream. I was in and out of consciousness, vomiting until there was nothing left in my stomach. The lights seemed to burn at my eyes whenever I tried to open them, and the voices around me often seemed far away. In fact, there were times when I almost felt disconnected from my own body.
I do remember one very lucid moment when I awoke to see a unit of blood flowing into one arm, with an IV in the other. As my eyes fluttered open just then, no doubt reflecting the confusion I felt, Dr. Parker explained that a blood transfusion had been necessary to save my life, not to mention the life of our little girl.
Several units of blood and many hours later, I awoke to find my husband next to my bed still holding my hand. His eyes were blood shot and he looked as if he hadn’t slept in days. He smiled wanly at me as he said, “you’re finally back with us.” He told me that they thought the bleeding had nearly stopped, and that it looked like I was going to be okay.
That was the first miracle. The second came five weeks later, when four-and-a-half-pound Mandy was finally placed in our arms. She was premature, but her lungs were formed, and she was beautiful! She had a full head of dark hair and bright blue eyes that looked from one of us to the other.
In that moment, I smiled tiredly down at her, knowing that we had both been saved by blood. The seemingly small act of a stranger had produced great miracles that changed the course of our lives and our family’s history forever.
We’ll never be able to thank our anonymous hero, but if you are someone who cares enough to donate blood, just know that someone out there is thanking God tonight for you. You are a hero to somebody!
I’m super grateful for people who gave blood and made it possible for me to live to give birth twice more after that and be here to raise my children!
This blog story was written by DeAnna Murphy – American Red Cross co-blood program leader for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Waconia, MN, blood donor, author and Top 100 Global Coaching Leader. She is also the mother of three, and grandmother of four. She currently lives in the Minneapolis area.
Red Cross volunteer welcomed help and hope after devastating home fire
On the day Sterling Molby answered my call he was busy, very busy, searching for anything he could save from the debris being turned over during cleanup of his burned home before winter took hold of northern Minnesota. His dwelling was, for the most part, reduced to ash that needed to be boxed and shipped to a place that would accept it. He hunted for, and found, a small steel box with photos.
“I’m watching to see if anything is salvageable,” Molby said.
The fire happened in October on a Saturday evening after he grilled steaks for his two children who ate up and then went to the basement to watch TV. Molby, upstairs and in a ‘food coma,’ noticed an orange glow outside on the deck and ran to get some blankets that he used to smother the flames of what quickly become an inferno engulfing his home. He ran to his children and together they fled to a neighbor. A 30-mile-an-hour western wind ramped the flames and made looking back a pain he never thought he’d experience.
“I checked on my kids again, sat in the front yard and watched my house burn,” Molby said.
Molby knows tough times. He served on two deployments with the U.S. Army in Iraq where he witnessed the impact of explosives. He worked for years finding places to live for homeless veterans. These experiences led him to becoming an American Red Cross volunteer supporting blood collection as a drive coordinator for eleven years. Molby “knows how amazing the Red Cross is,” having been there, especially during his military service, seeing people use Red Cross services and being around it.
“I feel like I’m helping saving lives and what I do has value,” Molby said.
So, when a firefighter told him to call the Red Cross he did without hesitation and spoke to a disaster responder who gathered information and details about the fire and making sure Molby and his children had a place to stay. Within thirty minutes he received financial assistance for temporary lodging and other immediate relief. Red Cross responders followed up in the days after asking what, if anything, his family needed. He’s grateful for support from the Red Cross and other community groups, particularly those for veterans.
“The outreach has been humbling. Local help has made the devastation a little easier,” Molby said.
Since the fire, the ups and down have been as a friend told him they would be. Molby’s doing what he can to be there for his children during this traumatic event and its aftermath while also moving ahead with plans to rebuild. The fire spared his garage and woodworking tools, which he’ll use to start making his home, again
Story by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross. Click here to learn more about and to support the work of Red Cross in Minnesota and the Dakotas.
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” exclaims Nancy McKenney who has been a Red Cross volunteer for 30 years.
McKenney, from Onida, South Dakota, became a volunteer in 1992 when a friend of hers from Pierre encouraged her to look into it. She joined because she “wanted to help people.”
Since then, McKenney has volunteered on more than 100 local and national disasters – including home fires, floods, wildfires, tornadoes and hurricanes – continuing her quest to help others.
“We’re so grateful for Nancy’s 30 years of service with the Red Cross,” says Nick Cluppert, Senior Disaster Program Manager, Red Cross Minnesota and Dakotas Region. “Without dedicated volunteers like Nancy, we would not be able to fulfill our mission. She gives so much of her time and is truly a gift to our organization and the people she helps!”
One of McKenney’s most memorable experiences was right after the 9/11 attacks when she was volunteering at a satellite office of the Pentagon. A woman who had lost her mother in the attacks approached her and asked if she had time to talk. “She’d talk and I’d listen – I think she had survivor’s remorse and she was a basket case,” McKenney recalls. “I really think I made a difference and I hope that she was able to get through it.”
Being deployed to Canada in August 2017 to help disaster relief efforts following a wildfire in was McKenney’s favorite deployment with the Red Cross. “I had my passport, so I said sure I’d go.” She helped at the front desk of the Red Cross shelter where she directed people, so they received the services they needed. “The countryside was so beautiful and the people where so gracious and glad to have us there,” she recalls. “It was a wonderful experience – you can’t imagine the smiles and gratefulness of all the of the people we helped.”
“I’ve gone out about four or five times a year,” says McKenney. Last year alone she was in Texas, New Mexico and New Orleans for weeks at a time. “This year it hasn’t worked out because of some health issues and I’m staying closer to home.”
McKenney continues to make her mark. Although for now she’s no longer going across the country to help, she’s putting her energy and compassion to good use right in South Dakota. She’s meeting with Emergency Managers across the state to keep relationships strong and establish locations for Red Cross shelters if needed in the future. And she’s working with local fire departments to make sure they have working smoke alarms to install in homes without them.
“I enjoy staying busy and talking to everyone – if I had to stay cooped up behind four walls I’d go out of my mind,” McKenney adamantly declares. “I need to do something to help people. I can just imagine all my belongings on the sidewalk after a home fire and not have anyone to turn to. I know I need to help them a little bit.”
She always finds ways to talk about the Red Cross including recruiting others to join her. “If you’re a people person the Red Cross offers lots of volunteer opportunities. I’ve made a lot of friends through the Red Cross – we’re one big family!”
“I love what I do! Some of us are getting old. We need some young blood – it would make my day if I inspired someone to join the Red Cross!”
Whether you’re a people person like Nancy or prefer to work behind the scenes, the Red Cross has volunteer opportunities for you. Visit redcross.org/givetime to find your fit.
15-Year-Old Receives National American Red Cross Recognition
Sydney Raley, a 15-year-old McDonald’s employee in Eden Prairie, had been working a typical Saturday shift at the drive-thru window, when she leaned out to inform a customer that her food was on the way and noticed the customer struggling. The woman was choking on a chicken nugget.
Syndey sprang into action, informing her manager and the customer’s daughter to call 911 and then jumping out the drive-thru window to help the customer by performing an abdominal thrust. She was unsuccessful at first, but with the aid of a bystander she was finally able to dislodge the food and clear the woman’s airway.
Sydney credits the bystander and her first aid training, which she received both at the age of 11 at a Red Cross Babysitting and Child Care training class and at Red Cross CPR and AED training in high school, for the successful save. Knowing how to respond during this type of situation allowed her to stay calm and collected as she completed all the necessary checks and steps to save the customer’s life.
This past month, Syndey received the American Red Cross Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action for her heroic actions. This is one of the highest awards given by the American Red Cross to an individual who saves or sustains a life by using skill and knowledge learned in a Red Cross Training Services course. It is intended to exemplify the highest degree of concern from one human being for another who is in distress.
At the presentation ceremony Sydney was able to reunite with the reporter who first broke her story along with others who helped spread her story and achieve international recognition for her heroism. Many in attendance were able to reflect on the inspirational nature of her actions, including Sydney’s parents who commented on the letters and messages Sydney has received from around the world detailing the hope for humanity that she has instilled in so many.
We are incredibly proud to be able to recognize Sydney with the American Red Cross Certificate of Extraordinary Personal Action and hope that Sydney’s story will continue to inspire others to receive lifesaving training and help others in times of need.
I’ve been donating blood to the American Red Cross ever since I was 17 years old.
I’m not sure what attracted me initially to contributing to this non-profit that has been around since 1881. It may have been a desire to give something essential that wasn’t simply money.
I was just a high schooler after all, working at a Save-A-Lot supermarket in upstate Pennsylvania on the weekends at the time. I wasn’t exactly flush with cash.
It may have been a desire to finally overcome my fear of needles. I’d suffered a crippling syringe-phobia ever since I was five and had to be strapped down to the examination table for a booster shot.
Certainly not a preferred early childhood memory.
Probably it had to do with the idea that the simple action of giving a pint of my blood could help someone’s life, or even several people’s lives. That appealed to me more than giving other things, like money, time, or labor. As the Red Cross states, “Blood and platelets cannot be manufactured; they can only come from volunteer donors.”
Since that initial decision to donate blood, I’ve given 23 times.
If I’m able to donate about four times a year for, say, the next 30 years or so, that means I could potentially donate up to almost 15 gallons of blood. I’ve given nearly three so far. You can donate whole blood every 56 days. While it would be great to be able to make it in perfectly on cue, it doesn’t always work out that way.
I’d like to donate 20 gallons of blood over my lifetime. I think that’s a reasonable goal.
When I lived in Philadelphia I donated like clockwork every two months at the donation center on Spring Garden street near Center City. On the way back home, I’d drive past John F. Kennedy Plaza, aka Love Park, and admire the famous red sign with the swooning letter “O.”
After moving to Williston, ND during the oil boom my donations became less frequent. Sometimes, when my work schedule allows, I’m able to make the blood drives that take place on occasion in nearby Sidney or Fairview, MT.
Other times in the past, I’ve actually driven six hours to Saint Cloud, MN to donate at the Red Cross center located in town. The phlebotomists there are friendly, and often they ask where I’m coming from. So when I mention Williston, they give me these weird looks. You drove six hours just to donate blood? At the Red Cross? Aren’t there places closer you can donate? Yeah. There’s United Blood Services, but I don’t give there. I’m a bit of a loyalist. The Red Cross takes me back to high school.
While it’s nice to donate blood and know I may have helped save somebody’s life, I also do it because it makes me feel good. I follow a strict dietary ritual the day before, eating foods rich in iron. Lots of fruits and vegetables. A big breakfast.
And, of course, drinking plenty of water. Always make sure you are well-hydrated before donating blood.
Seriously, I’m like an athlete prepping for a big game before I give blood. You’ve probably never met someone as excited to have their blood drained as me the day before a draw.
Giving blood compels me to stay active and in shape. When you donate you receive a mini-physical. They take your temperature, measure your hemoglobin levels, and take your pulse. When you go in for your appointment, the technicians there will have you fill out a lengthy health screening questionnaire.
While the Red Cross check-up is not a substitute for a full-body one by your doctor, it’s a good, cheap way to keep an eye on your health.
The Red Cross screens your blood before giving it to anybody, so if you have a disease or some kind of health problem, they’ll tell you. In my last donation, the Red Cross informed me that I had developed reactive+ Covid-19 antibodies. This means, according to the Red Cross anti-body test results page, that, “Antibody levels were detected at levels high enough that your plasma may be used as convalescent plasma.”
So, hopefully my blood went to someone who needed a leg up fighting that virus.
I have been told by several doctors that I have “great blood.” Which is no surprise. I work hard eating right and staying fit. I expect my crimson essence to be premium 94 octane.
I also think those who donate like me do so out of some unconscious need to affirm their own health and vitality. Some guys rip down the highway at 80 MPH on a Kawasaki motorcycle to “feel alive.” Me, I have a needle stuck in my arm to drain off a pint. It may not make for a Red Bull commercial, but donating blood is essential for millions of people every year who need transfusions or blood components to survive.
There’s also a very cool thing the Red Cross does that makes the ordeal worth it. They let you know where your blood donation went.
Usually just a few weeks or so after your donation, the Red Cross will send you an email with a message like the one above. It’s uplifting to know not just that your donation helps, but specifically where it did so.
Have you donated blood before? Or given thought to doing so? I know a lot of people are held back due to fear of needles, or concerns they’ll pass out or get sick.
Yeah, I’ve been there myself.
The whole blood donation process is mostly painless. I won’t lie, though. Sometimes it can hurt. It usually depends on the person sticking the needle in your arm. There’s a lot of finesse to finding the vein and inserting the syringe just right. I’ve had experiences where I barely felt anything. Other times the technician had to go digging around to find the right spot, and left me with black and blue marks. That sucked.
But look at it this way. You’re almost certainly going to have to have blood drawn at some point in your life anyway. Especially as you get older. You’ve probably already had blood work done up after an appointment.
At least if you get into the habit of donating regularly, you’ll get used to it. And you’ll be saving lives along the way. You might even become a freak like me and actually enjoy giving blood.
The technicians at the Red Cross are considerate professionals. They’ll make sure everything goes smoothly. It’s normal to feel light-headed after a blood draw. Having blood taken effects everyone differently. I’ve only had one instance where I felt like I was going to faint. That was likely due to being underfed and dehydrated before going in for my appointment. But the process has generally been a smooth one for me over my twenty-plus year Red Cross blood donation career.
This is why it’s so important to eat right and drink plenty of water before going in. Check out the Red Cross page on Tips for a Successful Blood Donation for more important details.
Republished with permission from Dean Brooks, novelist. His original post was dated June 14, 2022, on World Blood Donor Day, when Brooks completed his 25th blood donation. World Blood Donor Day is a day the American Red Cross joins blood collection organizations around the world to recognize the importance of a safe and stable blood supply and the donors who generously give to help save lives and enhance solidarity in communities.
A family honors husband and father who died from cancer
Throughout his life, Ed Sturm from New Ulm, Minnesota was known for his witty one-liners and his unwavering passion to help others. The 68-year-old served in the US Army, worked for New Ulm Manufacturing and Caterpillar, and later was as a truck driver. Sadly, his life ended following a long battle with cancer in 2020.
To honor his legacy of helping others, his wife Jean Sturm and daughter Rachel Sturm hosted an American Red Cross blood drive in his memory. Their family and friends rallied to show support – filling all appointment and collecting 35 pints of lifesaving blood.
Jean and Rachel both donated blood in honor of Ed at the drive. Jean, a regular blood donor, reached her 100th donation milestone! They hope the Ed Sturm Memorial Blood Drive becomes an annual event to help pay it forward and build awareness of the need for blood donations to help treat cancer patients like Ed.
“Everyone thought this was a great way to remember him because they knew his long journey and how much he struggled. Blood donation is an easy way for people to help others and give more time to another family going through the same situation,” said his daughter.
Sturm was first diagnosed in November 2012 with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer that affects plasma cells — crowding out the normal plasma cells that help fight infection. After a stem cell transplant in April 2013, Sturm’s cancer went into remission but returned in 2015. In March of 2019, their worst fear came true when Sturm was diagnosed with another form of cancer – myelodysplastic syndrome – where healthy blood cells die in the bone marrow or just after entering the bloodstream.
From March 2019 through March 2020, while trying to deal with the two different cancers, Sturm was in the emergency room multiple times getting blood transfusions because his hemoglobin dropped to dangerously low levels. But there wasn’t always blood on the shelves when he needed it.
“I didn’t realize how important blood donation was until my dad got sick and needed it.” – Rachel Sturm
His wife, Jean Sturm, recalls writing in his Caring Bridge journal in March 2020 that Ed had to wait for blood when donations declined during the pandemic. He was moved to the University of Minnesota Medical Center to help ensure blood products would be more readily available. “Cancer is a very physically & emotionally draining disease and having to worry about blood availability is just one more burden piled on,” she said.
In total, Sturm received 72 units of blood and 41 units of platelets. “These transfusions gave him the strength and endurance to withstand the chemotherapy and gave him more time with us,” said his daughter. “It was eye-opening to us that one person would need so much blood. I didn’t realize how important blood donation was until my dad got sick and needed it.”
Blood and platelets play a critical role in the treatment of cancer and other chronic diseases, as well as traumatic injuries. Patients fighting cancer need more blood than patients fighting any other disease, using nearly one-quarter of the nation’s blood supply. Healthy donors are needed to ensure that patients have lifesaving blood products available for cancer treatment, emergencies and everyday medical treatments.
To support families affected by cancer and help prevent a blood shortage this summer you can book a time to give. Simply download the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
Story by Sue Thesenga, American Red Cross. Photos provided by Sturm family.
In my nineteen years of life, I had never been scared of drowning. But, I never realized how easily it could happen until this past spring.
I have always loved the water. Growing up, I swam competitively for 10 years and relished anytime I got to jump into a pool, lake or ocean. After the restrictions started to lift towards the beginning of last fall, I decided to rekindle my love of the water and join my university’s surf club at St. Andrews, Scotland. I had never surfed before, but with my long swim history, I figured I would feel close to home in any water sport.
I wasn’t the only one with that idea. Over one hundred other students at my university also had the same idea. So, when I finally snagged an opening on a surfing excursion this past February, I jumped on the opportunity.
The day of the excursion was cold but clear. I biked down to the surf shed and met with everyone else who had also managed to land a surf slot. We changed into thick wetsuits and booties to protect us from the North Sea temperatures, grabbed our boards, and headed towards the sea. Because the sky was clear, I thought that the water would only have two to three-foot swells, but as we walked toward the beach, I could hear the roar of crashing waves. When we finally crested the dunes, we were met with five-foot swells all along the beach. The leader of our surf group saw the nerves on our faces and explained to us that all we had to do was paddle through the rough surf and reach the calm spot beyond the breaking waves. He pointed out to another group of surfers sitting on their boards. We watched as one of them paddled out from this calmer area to the breaking point and caught a wave into shore. At this point, any nerves I had at the prospect of such big swells had turned into excitement at the possibility of catching my first big wave.
At the beginning of the year, we attended surf lessons with the club and were taught how to safely duck under big waves with our boards. This came in handy as we set out into the water. It felt like every 15 seconds, I had to duck under another massive wave. Finally, I made it to the calm water beyond the breaking waves. My arms ached, but I was still excited to try and catch a big wave. I rested for a bit in the calm water, trying to regain my strength. After a while, I spotted a promising wave. I lined myself up and started paddling to try and catch it. Just as I finally felt comfortable enough to try and stand up, my weight shifted, and I tumbled off the board.
As soon as I entered the water, I was tossed around like clothes in a washing machine. I didn’t know which I was up or down. When I finally felt the pressure of the wave release, I came up sputtering for air, only to have to duck down again to avoid the next wave crashing right on top of me. I managed to swim to my board and start the long journey of paddling back out beyond the breaking point. It took me twice as long as the first time to reach the calm section of the water and my arms were even more drained. Still I was excited and waited patiently on my board for a second chance at a big wave. I repeated the process, lining up and paddling to try and catch a good wave, and this time I managed to get to my knees before falling off the board. I was immediately shoved under and somersaulted through the water before breaking the surface again. I was able to spot my board but didn’t have time to swim for it before another wave crashed right on top of me. After two more waves passed, I was finally able to grab my board but after being tossed around in the sea I hardly had the energy to do more that hold on to the side of the board and float. At this point, I had a crucial decision to make, try to paddle back out against the harsh waves as my strength faded or point my board towards the shore and try and catch a less powerful wave to the sand.
I made the decision to paddle back to shore. From my years as a competitive swimmer I knew a tired swimmer was not a good swimmer and I didn’t want to take my chances. I didn’t even realize how tired I was until I had to pick my board up and carry it back to the surf shed. I could barely lift the board and couldn’t even manage to pull off my tight wet suit booties when I tried to change back into dry clothes. It wasn’t until I called my mom to report on my experience that I realized I had come close to drowning. It was only after my mother had said, “Thank goodness you didn’t drown! A couple more waves, and you might not have come back up!” that the seriousness of the situation struck me. She was right. A couple more waves and tumbles, and I don’t know if I would have had the strength to keep my head above the surface. I had always imagined drowning as someone waving around for help, not quietly slipping beneath a wave.
The only reason that my experience ended well that day, and I never once thought drowning was a possibility, was because I had the skills to bring me to safety. I was a strong swimmer and was comfortable keeping myself afloat. I wore a wetsuit to protect myself from cold water shock. I hadn’t gone in the water by myself. I was at least one of ten people out on the water that day. I had told my roommate where I was going and when to expect me back. But that one decision, to stay in the water and paddle back or head for shore, was the major decision that decided my safety on that day. If I had chosen to paddle back out and try and catch another wave, I can not confidently say that I would be here writing this article today, despite all the other safe choices I had made.
I know many of you will not be braving the North Sea cold to try to catch big surf. However, I hope my experience illustrates how strong swimming abilities and strong water safety knowledge can provide happy endings to potentially dangerous water situations. Without these two skills, any experience with water can be just as close a call as mine. So, I encourage everyone to start their journey towards becoming strong swimmers or brush up on their water safety as summer rounds the corner so that everyone can enjoy the lake, pool, or ocean this summer.
A great place to start is on the Red Cross website! We offer lots of great resources, from swim lessons for children and adults to a free Swim app that helps families and kids have fun learning about water safety. On our website, you can find Red Cross partner swim lessons that are being offered near you and find lessons for parents about children’s water safety. In addition, the Swim app has videos and activities to make learning about water safety more engaging for young children. You can even track your kids’ progress, allowing them to earn badges as they learn to swim.
Resources like these make water safety more accessible than ever, so please don’t hesitate to take a look! One more person who learns how to be a safe swimmer is one more person whose story ends like mine, safely on shore.
Olivia Wolf is an American Red Cross volunteer for the Minnesota and Dakotas Region. She’s attending university in St. Andrews, Scotland.
The photo above, sent from one of our Red Cross volunteers, captures a tiny fraction of the sandbags being used to fight back water rising in the Rainy River watershed (and others) across northern Minnesota since last Friday. These sandbags are filled by community volunteers: families, students, neighbors and out-of-towners. They get thirsty, they get hungry and they get blisters. So, we’re there supporting them with hydration and snacks as well as basic health services – we’re helping the helpers! We’ve been working primarily in International Falls (Koochiching County) and doing deliveries to Lake Kabetogama and surrounding areas (Northern St. Louis County).
By end of day today, we’ll have provided since last Friday:
💧 Bottled water: 3,288
✔️ Powerade/Gatorade/BodyArmor: 1,370
🍿 Snacks: 1,942
🍊 Fruit: 392
🚚 Remote distribution of Salvation Army meals: 60 meals
🤕 First aid services at sandbagging location: 96
Many thanks to the great groups below, and to all of our amazing partners, for supporting the flood response – Boise Paper/PCA, Walmart in Virginia, MN, United Way of Northeastern Minnesota, Coca Cola Bottling of International Falls, International Falls Hockey Arena, and Cub Foods Duluth. You’re the best! 🤩