“We need more Annas in the world”

Many Red Crossers are committed to changing the world – one community, one person at a time. That is exactly what Anna Sieben’s mission was.

Sadly, Anna passed away unexpectedly on September 3, 2021, following complications from severe pneumonia.

Anna Sieben
1990 – 2021

To honor Anna’s legacy of making a difference, and her passion for the lifesaving mission of the American Red Cross, her friends and family have organized a blood drive in her memory on May 20, 2022, at Crossroads Church in Hastings, Minn. where Anna attended.

Throughout her life Anna had unwavering passion for helping others. “She was 110% about helping other people regardless of whether she knew you well or if you were a stranger,” said her best friend, Alea Gaughn, who’s helping to organize the blood drive in memory of Anna. “Anyone who knew Anna knew that she had three passions in life: her son Afton, living a healthy lifestyle and helping others.”

Anna and son Afton

Before Anna became a Red Cross employee, she worked at a nursing home. “Anna showed so much passion for the residents there – it was her calling to help others,” says Alea.

In 2019, Anna joined the Red Cross in the biomedical services scheduling department. Her spirit of giving and passion for helping others was quickly evident by her enthusiasm to host blood drives at several of her church’s campuses and volunteer at an annual Christmas Eve blood drive sponsored by the Red Cross.

“Anna was a shining light,” said Dee Carlson, manager of the scheduling department and Anna’s supervisor. “It was amazing to witness how she carried the mission of the Red Cross through everything she did. She made an impact on me, and our entire team, that will change us forever. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her – I miss her sweet smiles, her silly moments and her infectious laugh.”

Anna touched many at the Red Cross. Co-workers across departments enjoyed working with her.

“Anna was a beautiful person,” said Nicole Perlstein, donor recruitment account manager. “To me, she was a one in million type of gal! Anna deeply loved the lifesaving mission of the Red Cross, and I appreciated her passion to help in the community as a blood program leader.” 

Cathy Stapel, a donor recruitment account manager, recalls that Anna always had a glow about her and a smile on her face.

Selflessly, Anna volunteered at Red Cross blood drives including the annual St. James Thanksgiving Day blood drive. She brought homemade cookies to share with blood donors when they finished their donations (pre-Covid). Her son Afton volunteered too, handing out pumpkin pies. “I could tell she adored Afton and I remember thinking how nice it was that she gave up her holiday to help and got him involved in giving back,” said Cathy.  

Anna and Red Crossers Amber Swing and Cathy Stapel at the annual St. James Thanksgiving Day blood drive

Anna, an avid blood donor herself, encouraged her friends and family to donate blood regularly, and many continue as an ongoing tribute to her. “Anna impacted so many lives in such a positive way – she taught us how important it was to give back,” said Alea. “Anna would be so proud to have us donate blood in her name. My wish is for everyone to gather to roll up a sleeve one more time for Anna!”

Anna was a dedicated blood donor and encouraged others to donate

All appointments have been filled for the May 20 blood drive being held in memory of Anna. Those who want to donate in Anna’s honor are welcome to make an appointment to donate at other blood drive locations by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Story by Sue Thesenga /American Red Cross. Photos courtesy Alea Gaughn

Three friends, one mission

How Annie, Liana and Katie are turning their life-threatening childbirth experiences into advocacy and awareness for blood donation.

Annie, Liana and Katie (pictured from left to right) all experienced devastating amniotic fluid embolisms during childbirth and collectively needed over 100 units of blood products.

Most of us have never heard of amniotic fluid embolism (AFE). Neither had Annie, Katie and Liana, three women from the Minneapolis and St. Paul metro area. They met through the AFE Foundation because they all experienced an AFE during childbirth. Their stories are different, but they all credit blood with helping to save their lives. Together, they needed over 100 units of lifesaving blood products. To raise awareness about AFE, they are sharing their stories and hosting a blood drive to help ensure blood products are available for others who need lifesaving transfusions.

AFE is a rare and serious condition – occurring in about 1 in 40,000 births in the U.S. It’s sudden. It’s unexpected. It’s life-threatening. AFE causes birth complications that affect both mother and baby during labor or shortly after delivery. It’s thought to be the result of an allergic-like reaction to the amniotic fluid that enters the mother’s bloodstream. It can result in the mother going into respiratory failure, cardiac arrest, and DIC. Some women also experience strokes.

Meet these three strong, brave and remarkable women who are AFE survivors and who, not too long ago, were total strangers.

Meet Annie – On March 23, 2020, just 12 days after COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic, Annie had an emergency cesarean section and went into cardiac arrest. A code blue was called, CPR and shocks were administered, but her heart continued to fail. She entered disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), which causes blood to clot where it shouldn’t and then hemorrhage where clotting is necessary.

A massive blood transfusion was called for. Annie received about 25 units of blood products to replace the blood she lost.

“You just never think you’ll be the one in need. I had never donated blood before but made my first donation last September after I knew how important it was.”

Her son Henry was born without a pulse and quickly taken to the neonatal intensive care unit for treatment.

After over two weeks of unresponsiveness, Annie woke up and had paralysis on her right side and confusion about what had happened – she had no memory of going to the hospital to give birth and even thought she had miscarried.

An MRI revealed that Annie had suffered numerous strokes and bleeds. Following additional complications, set-backs and being isolated from her husband and family due to COVID-19 restrictions, the doctors said she would likely have long-term physical and cognitive disabilities and would require months of treatment in a rehab facility.

Annie met Henry for the first time in the rehab facility and six days later was able to go home. Henry doesn’t seem to have been impacted by the circumstances of his birth – his MRI was normal, and he is developing beautifully.

Although Annie has survived AFE physically unscathed and has returned to work recently, she says the “emotional wounds are deep and ones I’ll likely carry for the rest of my life. Something like this shouldn’t happen on the best day of your life.”  

Meet Katie – In August 2017, at 41+ weeks pregnant, Katie went in for her scheduled induction – anxious to meet her baby daughter. Once her water broke, everything went dark. Katie went in and out of consciousness but remembers the chaos going on around her as they wheeled her into the operating room for an emergency cesarian section.  

Three days later she woke up in the ICU and found out that she had an AFE followed by DIC, which required her to receive 50+ units of blood products. 

“I’ve donated blood once or twice before – and I’m filled with tremendous gratitude on how many people had to donate for me and how much more need there is out there.”

Her newborn daughter had suffered complications too and was transferred to a local children’s hospital for treatment. A week later, Katie was finally able to meet and hold her precious girl. It was the most unbelievable moment — “one I’ll never forget,” she says. On day 10, her daughter was cleared to go home, and Katie was hospitalized for an additional 15 days.

Once home, the littlest tasks were difficult – going up and down stairs, taking a shower, or changing one diaper. After two weeks at home, Katie was back in the hospital with bi-lateral pulmonary embolisms and was in and out of the hospital for a couple months with various other complications.

Katie went on to have a subsequent pregnancy and complication free delivery with her second child in April 2020.

Meet Liana – In January 2019, right before her delivery, a very pregnant Liana recalls a feeling that something was wrong. Her husband tried to reassure her, saying that the humans have been having babies for millions of years and that all would be okay. She wrote off her feelings as the jitters for a first-time mother.

Liana was induced at 38 weeks and was excited to meet her baby. Her fear turned real when she experienced complications during delivery. Liana’s blood pressure plummeted followed by massive hemorrhaging, coding, seizing and a stroke. Doctors performed an emergency cesarean section and Liana required more than 10 units of blood products. Her daughter Lydia was born with no heart rate.

“Blood is the ultimate gift – it helped save my life!”

When Liana woke up in the ICU she could hardly move or speak. She tried, but nothing came out. She was told she had given birth and had a daughter named Lydia. “So many thoughts were racing through my mind. No matter how much I wanted to talk, I couldn’t. So, I just cried.”

Liana spent 17 additional days in the hospital going through speech and occupational therapy.

Although AFE caused significant and lasting health complications that affected her memory, speech and motor skills, it hasn’t stopped Liana from keeping a positive attitude and a sense of humor. With great determination and many hours of rehab she’s been able to resume her passion to do the things she loves.

“I’ve physically made a full recovery, but am mentally dealing with the trauma.”

Liana has donated blood in the past and plans on being a regular blood donor.

——————————

To help build awareness for the importance of blood donation and AFE, their first-ever “friends of AFE blood drive” will be held February 18, 2022, for their families and friends.

Learn more about AFE on the Amniotic Fluid Embolism Foundation’s website and read Annie’s, Katie’s and Liana’s stories on their blog.


Story by Sue Thesenga and Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross. Photos courtesy Annie, Katie and Liana.

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

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.

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

Stuart’s Back – Rolling Up a Sleeve to Help Patients in Need

Stuart Anderson at the Red Cross Blood Donation Center in Minneapolis, June 4, 2021.

“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.

Red Cross phlebotomist Suriya and platelet donor Stuart, Minneapolis, June 4, 2021.

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

Give Blood to Give Time

Supporting cancer patients through blood donation

In August 2016, Myel Bowers-Smith received an unexpected and life-changing medical diagnosis

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.

The American Red Cross and the American Cancer Society have teamed up this June to encourage people across the country to Give Blood to Give Time and help ensure loved ones have the strength and support they need as they undergo cancer treatment.

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.

Source: American Cancer Society

“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.

“Without the blood I needed, I may not have survived.”

Crediting blood with saving his life, Bryan Joas advocates for blood donations.

Shauna and Bryan Joas at the March 5, 2021, Joas Strong 5th anniversary blood drive held at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, Minn.

While riding his bicycle home from work in 2016, Bryan Joas was involved in a hit-and-run accident. He suffered life-threatening injuries including a broken back, hips and ribs, and damaged lungs, liver, kidney, and intestines. He needed 12 surgeries during his 88-day hospital stay and received nearly 50 transfusions of blood products that helped save his life.

“Without the blood I needed, I may not have survived,” says Bryan. “I’m grateful to blood donors for ensuring there was blood on the shelves when my life was on the line.”

Five years later, Bryan spends little time thinking about the accident or that the vehicle driver has never been found. He chooses to focus on his health, family and replenishing the blood supply that was used to save his life. Bryan and his wife, Shauna, are both advocates for blood donations. “It’s important to me to help pay it forward. I’m living proof that blood helps save lives, and I urge anyone who is able to donate,” says Bryan.

To make an appointment to give blood dowload the Red Cross Blood Donor App or visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-RED CROSS  (1-800-733-2767).

For patients in the emergency room, fighting cancer or facing a life-threatening illness, help can’t wait. Blood donations are essential. Healthy donors are needed now to ensure that patients have lifesaving blood products available for emergency and everyday medical treatments. 

Blood donation safety precautions

To protect the health and safety of Red Cross staff and donors, individuals who do not feel well or who believe they may be ill with COVID-19 should postpone their donation.

Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions – including temperature checks, social distancing and face coverings for donors and staff – have been implemented to help protect the health of all those in attendance. Donors are asked to schedule an appointment prior to arriving at the drive and are required to wear a face covering or mask while at the drive, in alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public guidance.  

April is National Volunteer Month

April is National Volunteer Month – the perfect time to give blood, platelets or plasma. There’s no substitute for volunteer donors: Blood cannot be manufactured. In thanks, come to give by 4/30 to be entered for a chance to win a $1,000 e-gift card. Give: rcblood.org/Gift

Story and photo by Sue Thesenga, American Red Cross, Minnesota and Dakotas Region

You could be an MVP for people who need lifesaving blood, platelets or convalescent plasma

Kick off the year by making a lifesaving donation this National Blood Donor Month

The American Red Cross and the NFL are partnering this January, during National Blood Donor Month, to urge individuals – especially those who have recovered from COVID-19 – to give blood and to help tackle the national convalescent plasma shortage. 

The Red Cross has teamed up with the NFL to offer those who come to give blood, platelets or plasma, Jan. 1-31, 2021, a chance to win a getaway to the 2022 Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles. As an extra thank-you from the Red Cross, those who come to give Jan. 1-20, 2021, will also be automatically entered to win a Big Game at Home package, which includes a 65-inch television and $500 gift card toward food and fun so their household can enjoy an awesome viewing experience safely at home. Terms apply; visit RedCrossBlood.org/SuperBowl for more information. 

Two ways COVID-19 survivors can help  

Health emergencies don’t pause for holidays, game days or a pandemic – blood is needed every two seconds in the U.S. to help patients battling injury and illness. As COVID-19 cases have risen across the U.S., so has the need for convalescent plasma – leading to a shortage of this potentially lifesaving blood product.  

There are two ways those who have recovered from COVID-19 can make a big difference: 

A convalescent plasma donation: The Red Cross is collecting convalescent plasma at over 170 locations throughout the country. If you’ve recovered from COVID-19, you may be eligible to donate your plasma to help others going through COVID-19 treatment. Fill out the eligibility form to start the process. 

A whole blood donation: Plasma from whole blood donations that test positive for COVID-19 antibodies may be used to help COVID-19 patients. Make an appointment to give blood by downloading the free Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).   

Thanks for considering lifesaving blood, platelets or plasma donation for patients!

Thanks to Emily for making such a huge impact and helping the Red Cross maintain a stable blood supply through the holiday season and this winter!

Leslie Johnson and her daughter Emily Johnson, Mankato, Minnesota.

We’re happy to share with you a story that KEYC-News in Mankato recently aired entitled: LCWM senior advocates for blood donations by sharing personal story.

Emily Johnson, a senior at Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial High School is hosting her second blood drive this year because she credits blood with helping save her mom’s life.

“My mom is my inspiration and I’m grateful she is alive,” said Emily Johnson. “If blood had not been available when she needed it, she might not be here today – I might not have had my mom growing up. It’s my honor to be able to promote blood donation and help pay it forward to others in need.”

In 2005, when Emily was just two years old her mother, Leslie Johnson, was in a farming accident that left her with broken bones including a shattered pelvis in five places, her right leg was severely injured and detached from her spine, a severed artery in her abdomen and head trauma. The injuries caused massive bleeding and she received platelets while being airlifted to the hospital.

Leslie Johnson underwent surgery that same day to repair the severed artery and head trauma. She received nine units of blood in the first 24 hours. She spent the next six days in an induced coma and received additional units of blood. Eleven days later following a second surgery to repair her crushed pelvis she was discharged from the hospital. The next three months were spent in a wheelchair and learning to walk again.

“I am so proud of Emily,” said her mother. “She is such an amazing young woman and is making a positive impact in this world!”

Leslie Johnson is facing another surgery to fully replace both of her hip sockets that were also crushed in the accident and may need additional blood products.

Thanks to Emily for making such a huge impact and helping the Red Cross maintain a stable blood supply through the holiday season and this winter.

Make your blood, platelets or convalescent plasma donation today.

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