Author Archives: Megan Erk

The gift of life runs in this family’s veins

Cathy Mendoza and her father, Gerald Stoltenberg
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It all started over 30 years ago when Cathy Mendoza of Modesto, California was pregnant. As a normal part of her prenatal blood work, Cathy discovered that she had O negative blood and was CMV (Cytomegalovirus) negative. CMV is a flu-like virus that most adults are exposed to over their lifetimes. Cathy was never exposed to CMV, so she does not have the antibodies to it. While CMV is generally harmless for adults, it can be fatal for babies. In layman’s terms, Cathy has very special blood. Her blood type and Rh factor, plus the fact that she does not have CMV antibodies, make her blood essential for babies who need a transfusion.

Cathy is one of a small but mighty group of blood donors across the country who are often referred to as “Heroes for Babies.” Without these special blood donors, sick babies would not receive the lifesaving blood transfusions they desperately need. Initially, Cathy was the donor in the family who would regularly be called to donate her blood to help medically-fragile infants who needed transfusions. Then, her dad, Gerald, decided to donate, and low and behold, he has the same blood type and Rh factor as Cathy.

Since her first donation over 30 years ago, both Cathy and her father have continued to donate blood regularly. Cathy recently hit her 14-gallon donation milestone. In addition to regularly donating blood, Cathy is also the Executive Director for Society for disABILITIES in Modesto. The Society provides numerous adapted recreational programs, and it also operates the largest medical equipment loan closet in Northern California. You can find out more about the society’s work on their website.

When asked what she would say to someone who is considering donating blood but worries that the process might hurt, Cathy simply encourages people to try it.

 “Sign up, make sure you are well hydrated, and if you are a little nervous, don’t be afraid to let the Red Cross nurse know you are a first timer” she said. “They are always so caring, and will take good care of you. The process is easy and painless, and can literally save a life. It’s a way to give back to your community that does not cost anything but your time. The reward of knowing that your donation may save a life far outweighs a little time taken out of your day.”

A family affair, Cathy and her father have spent decades giving life to their community, one unit of blood at a time.

About the author: Megan Erk is the Pacific Division External Relations Lead, Executive Board Member, and CEO Volunteer Partner for the Central Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross.

Brandi and Tracy’s story: Blood donation runs in the family.

Brandi Pico

When Tracy Pico walked into the American Red Cross blood donation center in Pleasant Hill, California to donate blood, she was on a mission. She was determined to help another person in need just as others had donated blood for her 14-year-old daughter, Brandi. Last year, Brandi endured a long and arduous course of treatment for cancer which included multiple transfusions.  

Tracy’s family have all been blood donors for years. In fact, her father has been a regular donor for over 30 years at the Red Cross facility in Pleasant Hill. But it was Brandi’s ordeal with cancer that ignited her personal commitment to become a blood donor. 

In June of 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brandi was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma. Ewing’s Sarcoma is a rare form of bone cancer that typically occurs in children and young adults. Her early symptoms, which included a painful bump below her left knee, were initially thought to be caused by another condition that, although painful, would eventually resolve. Unfortunately, the first diagnosis was wrong, and Brandi faced a devastating cancer diagnosis at an incredibly young age.  

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Actor discovers why our volunteers have been VIPs during CZU Fire

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Preparing to assemble re-entry kits for fire evacuees returning home, Casey Affleck is briefed by Michele Averill, CEO for the Central Coast Chapter (right), and Kerrin Welsh, Regional Preparedness Manager, in a warehouse in the community of Aromas. (Photo by Brian Nichols)
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As a long-time Red Cross volunteer and disaster responder, I have seen first-hand the impact disasters have on individuals, families, first responders, and entire communities. Although the resulting devastation and loss are unbearable, natural disasters can also bring out the very best in people who step forward to help in any way possible.

Academy Award-winning actor Casey Affleck and his friend Brian Nichols were two such people, wanting to provide assistance during the devastating CZU Lightning Complex Fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Read more