Living with sickle cell disease

Bathesheba Benson, a sickle cell warrior, keeps her eyes on the future

Bathesheba Benson knows hope and pain more than most. Known as Sheba, she’s among the estimated 100,000 people in the United States living with sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell disease turns soft and round red blood cells into hard and crescent-shaped cells that clump together, reducing blood flow.

Sheba’s first sickle cell crisis happened when at home in New Hope, Minnesota. She was just five years old and had a stroke. It was then that her family learned she had inherited the sickle cell trait from both of her parents.

“My parents kind of knew because I would swell up. They knew something was wrong, but they didn’t know I had sickle cell,” she says.

“I want to see the world. There’s so much to do. ” – Sheba Benson, a sickle cell warrior

Now thirty-seven years old, Sheba knows well the challenges facing ‘sickle cell warriors’ who shape their days, weeks, and years into a life that prevents pain and reduces crises to the best of their abilities.

Sometimes a crisis can’t be prevented. Certain factors, like extreme cold, elevate risks. Even something quite ordinary, such as five-minute walk to a nail salon, can ignite the spiral.

“Oh, my goodness, it’s so hard,” she says. “I have to plan life out ahead of time. I have to double think about my decisions that I take in life.”

One decision – staying in college to study childcare – came to halt when she was twenty-one years old. She suffered a second stroke. The event also triggered a bout of depression so she went with her mom to visit relatives in Ghana. 

“I feel healthier once I get blood in my system – I feel brighter, stronger and healthier – you can see it in my face – my sister says ‘you look better’.”

Sheba Benson – Sickle Cell Warrior

“I was depressed there, too, because I wasn’t doing anything and not going anywhere. So, I decided to come back to Minnesota,” she says.

A critical, lifesaving treatment through all of this is blood transfusion. Red cell transfusion increases oxygen in the blood, boosting her immune system and reducing a severe pain crisis, stroke or other life-threatening conditions. Sheba’s transfusions have been numerous throughout the years, including more intensive apheresis therapy.

“They always transfuse me when my hemoglobin is low. Sometimes they give me an apheresis transfusion when I’m very very sick. They place a tube in my neck or groin area, and then hook me up to a big machine where they exchange blood,” she explains.

The transfusion transforms her in moments.

“I feel a lot lot better, like instantly – I feel stronger instantly – I feel healthier once I get blood in my system – I feel brighter, stronger and more healthier – you can see it in my face – my sister says ‘you look better’.”

“I feel healthier once I get blood in my system.” – Sheba Benson receives blood transfusion when she has a sickle cell crisis.

Sickle cell warriors like Sheba rely on blood donors for this crisis mitigating and lifesaving therapy, which could be needed any day of the year. Finding a blood match beyond well-known blood types like A, B and O is essential.

The hardship of finding a match lessens with a more diverse blood supply. The most likely matches are with donors who are Black. And because blood compatibility decreases with each transfusion, ongoing diversity from new and regular Black donors makes the difference for Sheba and other sickle cell patients.

“My blood bags always have Red Cross on it,” she says. “Please donate because it really goes along way – it helps me, it helps other patients out there. If I could donate, I would donate. Please go out there and donate if you can.”

When feeling well, meaning her pain is okay, Sheba holds her gaze on happiness, especially being with her friends and family. Meeting new people brings her joy, too.

“I want to see the world. There’s so much to do. My dream for 2022 is to stay out of the hospital and travel more. The ocean is my peaceful place. I want to be on the beach somewhere!”

To learn more about sickle cell disease, click here. To find a donation appointment, click here.

Story by Lynette Nyman/American Red Cross. Photos provided by Sheba Benson

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.

Self-care tips to keep you happy and healthy this winter

By Vanessa Racine, Canadian Red Cross social media coordinator

Colder temperatures. Less light. Rain, snow. It can sometimes be difficult to stay cheery during the winter in a country like Canada! Some Canadians enjoy the season because it gives them a good excuse – if not forces them – to do something that we tend to neglect: to take time out for ourselves, and ourselves alone.

Refocusing on yourself is extremely important and should regularly be made a priority. It lets you reflect, build your self-esteem, and feel good about yourself. Since we’re at home most of the time, winter is the perfect season to learn how to take time for yourself, live a calmer life, make room for your passions – and discover new ones.

Here are self-care tips to help you stay healthy this winter:

1. Read – one of the best ways to escape and spark your imagination.
2. Do a hands-on activity – knit, paint, sew or tackle a DIY project. Building or creating something with your own two hands can give you a real sense of pride.
3. Take a bubble bath – for even deeper relaxation, pair it with a good book and/or music.
4. Turn your phone all the way off – at least for one day a week.
5. Get involved with an organization that works for a cause that’s important to you — why not with the Red Cross?
6. Get active – whether you opt for something calming or energizing, regular exercise improves your physical and mental well-being.
7. Whip up a homemade hot chocolate – or another little sweet treat for your taste buds.
8. Light candles – the warm glow and fragrance make for the perfect calming atmosphere.
9. Play board games – dig out that old Monopoly set or deck of cards and have a blast rediscovering old classics!
10. Do a face and hair mask once a week – or go all out with an at-home spa day.
11. Sort through your stuff – clean out your closets! Throwing away, selling, or donating items does wonders and helps you feel more at home, since your space is less cluttered.
12. Cook up a homemade meal – from the cuisine of your choice, prepared with love from start to finish.
13. Learn a language – even if it’s just the basics of a language you’ve always dreamed of learning. It’s good to challenge yourself in a healthy way, and best of all, it’s useful.
14. Make a list – of fashion, travel, positive thoughts… it doesn’t matter what the list is about, just as long as it motivates and inspires you.
15. Put on some music and dance.

I hope that you’ll draw inspiration from these self-care tips and take care of yourself on the daily. And don’t forget, stress is a part of modern life and is a normal reaction to change. To limit the harmful effects of stress on your mental or physical health, it’s important to learn to live a healthy lifestyle, and if needed, to not hesitate to ask loved ones or health professionals for help. Doing so will make you more likely to stay zen!

For more well-being resources, click here and here. By the way, a near identical version of this post originally appeared on the Canadian Red Cross blog, which means this post is published here with permission from the Canadian Red Cross. Thank you!

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!

7 Healthy Habits to Help Prevent Flu

Every year on average 8% of people in the U.S. get the flu – don’t let it be you!

  1. Get vaccinated. Everyone 6 months of age an older should get a flu vaccine every season, especially people at high risk.
  2. Avoid close contact. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you are sick, keep your distance from others.
  3. Stay home when you are sick. Stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick to prevent spreading your illness to others.
  4. Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing to prevent those around you from getting sick.
  5. Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  6. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.
  7. Practice other good health habits. Clean frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

BONUS! Flu vaccination does not prevent blood donation. Yeah!

Download our new Flu (Influenza) Checklist that’s available in eight languages. Stay informed about public health recommendations related to flu and other health threats by visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For more information on disaster and emergency preparedness, visit redcross.org.

Red Cross helps find a sister and best friend

After years of not knowing, a Minnesota couple from Cuba learn their beloved family member is alive and well

In one way, it took hardly any time at all to find Felipe’s sister in Cuba. Just months, in fact, once the Red Cross search formally started. In another way, it lasted years: Felipe lost contact with his sister Carmela in 1992 when he and his wife moved to Minnesota. Around that time, they exchanged their last letter with Carmela.

There was no phone number to call. More letters were sent. They received no replies. Maybe she was sick. Or worse. They assumed something bad had happened. This struck Nila the hardest. “I love her too much,” she says. For her, Carmela was more than her husband’s sister: Carmela was her sister, her family, her best friend.

Felipe and Nila left Havana in 1966 and moved to the United States where they joined her mother. Photo: Susan Bourgerie/American Red Cross

JoAnn, a long-time family friend in Minnesota, alerted Felipe to the possibility of working through the Red Cross to find Carmela. JoAnn knew that every day for years Felipe wondered about his sister. Papi and Mami are “like my parents,” she says.

JoAnn reached out through email to the Red Cross to learn more about family tracing. Once Felipe agreed to search, local volunteers moved the process forward, informing JoAnn, who updated Felipe. When she knew it worked – meaning, when she knew Carmela was found and, most importantly, alive – JoAnn went to Felipe and Nila at once with the great news.

Married 60 years, Felipe and Nila have 4 children, 12 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren. For five years in Cuba, they went on dates always with a chaperone.

The first phone call was short. Felipe’s sister used a friend’s phone to reach him. Nila was on the call too.  They shared short phrases. Hardly said anything in word count. And yet the meaning of Nila’s basic words — my sister, I miss you, I love you – say everything. “Are you well?” Felipe asked Carmela. They’ve had several more calls and exchanged more email messages with JoAnn receiving and translating them.

Red Cross volunteer Kalay helped reconnect Felipe and Nila with their sister in Cuba. Photo: Susan Bourgerie/American Red Cross

“I appreciate the Red Cross,” says Felipe, who was excited and happy to learn that his sister was alive and well. His sister Carmela was excited, too. Her blood pressure went up, he says. They’ll have more calls, emails and letters. They’ll not lose contact again.

Story by Lynette Nyman / American Red Cross. To learn more about family reconnecting services, click here.

“Thank you for your service and sacrifice.”

A Holidays for Heroes message from a UMD student-athlete.

Our Holidays for Heroes program is an effort to collect handwritten messages on holiday cards to thank and recognize service members and veterans for their service and sacrifice.

This year, the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota teamed up with University of Minnesota Duluth student hockey teams to sign cards that will bring holiday joy to the men and women who keep, and have kept, us safe.

UMD Women’s Hockey captain Jalyn Elmes  signs Holidays for Heroes cards.

“It’s a really good way to reach out and show our appreciation to people that we may never get the chance to tell in person. It took less than an hour of our time,” says Jalyn Elmes, captain of the University of Minnesota Duluth, Women’s Hockey team.  Elmes has participated in Holidays for Heroes in the 2018 and 2019 holiday seasons.

Director of the local Red Cross, Dan Williams, has helped facilitate Holidays for Heroes for a number of years. Dan says his favorite part about this proactive effort is reminding service members and veterans that they’re cared about. “We’re not waiting for service members to raise their hand and say ‘I wish the community would show me how much they appreciate us.’”

UMD Men’s Hockey team thanks military veterans.

During the past four years, UMD student-athlete teams have signed around 4,000 cards. Football, women’s volleyball, and men’s and women’s hockey have joined these efforts. The signed cards will be distributed to local military service units and veterans clinics and homes.

Other upcoming activities include blood drives and humanitarian law training through our Red Cross Youth outreach. And getting involved Holidays for Heroes s as easy as bringing holiday cards to your local Red Cross chapter. We’ll do the rest!

Story by Caroline Nelson and photos by Dan Williams, American Red Cross Minnesota Region. Click here to learn more about Red Cross services for military families and veterans.

 

Partnership in pictures: Women in manufacturing

On July 23, 2019, at the Women in Manufacturing conference in Cloquet, women made hygiene kits that American Red Cross volunteers will distribute to people in need of humanitarian aid. Photo by Jamie Lund with Pine Journal and published with permission.

USG Corporation hosted more than 50 women during the conference, which was held July 23 and 24. Part of the program included a day of service activity, which focused on supporting the Red Cross mission to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies.

To support service day, USG donated the kit supplies, including pillowcases, that turned into 250 comfort and hygiene kits. The kits will help at-risk military veterans and families affected by disasters, mostly home fires in northern Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin.

The service day event showed great leadership, teamwork and camaraderie. Special thanks go to local Red Cross volunteers Kyra, Penny, Mattie, Diane and Sophia, as well as Northern Minnesota Red Cross executive director Dan Williams.

For more about the conference, read this Pine Journal article by Jamie Lund. Click here to help the Red Cross provide shelter, food, and other relief during disasters. To learn more about Red Cross support for military families and veterans, click here.

Unless otherwise noted, all photos are provided by Dan Williams with the American Red Cross Minnesota Region. Thanks Dan!

Help replenish the blood supply

American Red Cross staff member Deshayla Tran finishes collecting a whole blood donation from Terry Smith, who has been regularly donating blood for the last five to 10 years. Amanda Romney/American Red Cross

Donors of all blood types, especially type O, are needed to help replenish the blood supply as the Red Cross faces an emergency need right now. Blood from generous volunteer donors helps families like the Jolliffes.

In February 2018, Meghan Jolliffe suffered an amniotic fluid embolism. During childbirth her heart stopped beating for 14 minutes resulting in the need for an emergency cesarean section. Her organs began to shut down, and her blood would not clot.

Meghan received nearly 100 units of blood within a seven-hour period during her procedures. The doctors were able to stop the bleeding and stabilize Meghan’s condition. Over the next several days, Meghan underwent five surgeries, dialysis and more to repair the damage to her body.

Type O negative red blood cells are kept in a Red Cross storage refrigerator before being distributed to a hospital. Type O negative is the universal blood type and what emergency room personnel reach for when there is no time to determine the blood type of patients in the most serious situations. Amanda Romney/American Red Cross

After her son Sullivan was delivered, he went without oxygen for seven minutes. Doctors performed a process called therapeutic hypothermia, or whole-body cooling, to preserve his neuro function, and he also received several units of blood.

In all, Meghan and Sullivan received 109 units of blood.

Meghan and Sully

“My family and I are forever grateful for the generosity of Red Cross volunteer blood donors,” says Meghan. “Donating blood is so important. You or a loved one may never need these lifesaving products, but I can assure you that someone, somewhere will.”

Please don’t wait to donate.  You can make an appointment now to give blood or platelets by downloading our free Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Thank you!

LaDeodra Drummond donates blood. Jeanette Ortiz-Osorio/American Red Cross

Six things to know before blood donation

Do you know that only 3 out of 100 Americans donate blood each year, but every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood? Here’s another surprise: blood donation can be super easy. Once you’re seated comfortably, the actual donation time takes only 8 to 10 minutes.  To help bring more ease for new and continuing donors, below are six things we’d like you to know before donating blood. 

  1. You do not need to know your blood type. A national survey conducted earlier this year for the Red Cross revealed that 54% of people believe they need to know their blood type to donate blood. Find more eye-popping results here.
  2. You should be well-hydrated. Blood has a lot of water. To promote a good flow during donation and to prevent dizziness during or after, we recommend drinking an extra 16 oz. of liquid before donating. Hydrate after, too. Check out our fave water bottle that will help keep you hydrated on the go. 
  3. You should eat a healthy meal rich in iron and vitamin C while avoiding high-fat foods just prior to donation.  Your body needs iron to make new blood cells, replacing the ones lost through blood donations. Vitamin C promotes iron absorption. Find a list of iron rich foods here. Yum! 
  4. You should wear cozy clothes. Whatever’s on top should be loose and comfortable with short sleeves or sleeves that can be easily rolled up above the elbow during your donation. Find our classic T-shirt here in many colors. 
  5. You can speed up your appointment time. Complete a RapidPass® on the day of your donation, prior to arriving, and you’ll save time completing your health history that’s required before your donation can begin. Click here for more.
  6. You should remember to bring a picture ID.  Your ID can be one primary ID, such your Red Cross blood donor card or state driver’s license; or two other forms of secondary ID. Click here to check for acceptable forms of ID.

Now that you’re feeling more confident about blood donation, click here to schedule an appointment near you.  Need more tips? Watch this video of some pro blood donors. They make it look easy, because it is. Thanks!

Post by Lynette Nyman for the American Red Cross Minnesota Region
Sources include American Red Cross  and Red Cross Chat 

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