Tag Archives: Regional

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.

Relentless in their help

Most of us don’t realize we have just two minutes to escape a home fire. 
Photo by Brad Zerivitz | American Red Cross

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Navy veteran Michael Ocaranza awoke to flames engulfing his apartment. He had just enough time to grab his dog, Sparky, and race out the door as fire licked around his head. Mike ultimately suffered 1st and 2nd degree burns on his forearms and shoulders. He was hospitalized in San Francisco for two weeks.

American Red Cross volunteers and case managers, Betsy Witthohn and Cindy Jones, first contacted Mike during his hospitalization and began to put together resources for his welfare following his stay. After two weeks of care, Mike’s brother Alonzo – also a veteran – transported Mike from the hospital back to Sonoma County.

“I picked Mike up, and we went directly over to the Red Cross office,” said Alonzo. “Betsy met us outside. She had a cash card to give to Mike, some emergency supplies and a little startup money. She was really, really nice from the beginning. Her communication skills blew me away. I had never experienced anyone who put so much effort… and as a volunteer… they were helping me, too.”

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Sound the Alarm day of action a success

Red Cross volunteers and community partners

American Red Cross Sound the Alarm Day of Action on May 8 was a success!

Most of us don’t realize we have just two minutes to escape a home fire. That’s why the American Red Cross Northern California Coastal Region prepared families to act quickly through the Home Fire Campaign.

Joining a national effort to educate 100,000 people about home fire safety this spring, local Red Cross volunteers met virtually with families to review fire safety steps for their household.

On May 8, local first responders, Concord Police Department , CERT Ready volunteers and the Red Cross met with residents of the Clayton Villa Apartments in Concord to go over home fire prevention and safety training. Then everyone gathered in the courtyard for a hands-on demonstration of how to safely use a fire extinguisher. Twenty four apartment homes were made safer thanks to the Sound the Alarm training!

“On average, home fires kill seven people every single day in the U.S.,” said Kerrin Welsh, Regional Preparedness Manager for the American Red Cross. “That is why it is so important for families to have critical preparedness conversations like those offered through Sound the Alarm.”

Silicon Valley Chapter CEO Ken Toren and Councilmember David Cohen

Also on May 8, a signature event took place in District 4 of San Jose, featuring special remarks by Silicon Valley Chapter Executive Director Ken Toren, San Jose Fire Department Fire Captain Bien Doan and San Jose District 4 Councilmember David Cohen.

“Every second counts when there’s a home fire,” said Ken Toren, Executive Director for the Silicon Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross. “As families spend more time at home during the pandemic, it’s critical that we help our neighbors protect themselves from these everyday disasters.”

913 Homes in the Northern California Coastal Region have been made safer by the Red Cross this year; 324 of these homes were made safer in April and May.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR FAMILY SAFE Every second counts when there’s a home fire. Help protect your family against home fires by taking two simple steps: Practice your two-minute escape drill and test your smoke alarms monthly.

  • Create an escape plan with at least two ways to exit every room in your home. Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as your neighbor’s home or landmark like a specific tree in your front yard, where everyone knows to meet.
  • Practice your escape plan until everyone in your household can get out in less than two minutes.
  • Place smoke alarms on each level of your home, including inside and outside bedrooms and sleeping areas. Change the batteries at least once a year if your model requires it.
  • Check the manufacturer’s date of your smoke alarms. If they’re 10 years or older, they likely need to be replaced. Follow your alarm’s manufacturer instructions.

This work is made possible thanks to generous financial donations from regional partners: Pacific Gas and Electric Company, E. & J. Gallo Winery and CSAA Insurance Group, a AAA Insurer. Visit SoundtheAlarm.org for more information.

Feeding people for a lifetime

Susan Reese in the field.

American Red Cross volunteer – and recent transplant to Fairfield – Susan Reese always planned to work with the Red Cross when she retired. When Susan finally retired from the restaurant industry last year, she became a volunteer wildfire associate. While working at a Local Assistance Center (LAC) during the North Complex fires in Yuba City, disaster response leadership called for people to join the feeding team. Susan jumped up, and said, “Feeding is what I love doing!” Just like that, Susan’s first deployment brought everything full circle. 

Susan first had contact with the Red Cross in 1997 when she lived in Klamath, California. That year, the Klamath River breeched and flooded the town. Susan says that the entire area “was wiped out.” The Red Cross arrived and began to feed survivors and evacuees by bringing in food from a neighboring city. 

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Sharing the ‘good’ in us

Juanita donating blood.

The first time Juanita Ellington donated blood, she was in her late 20s and became a little woozy during the process. She opted not to donate for a while, but then COVID hit. In December 2020, Juanita fell ill with COVID-19, which left traces of the virus’s antibodies in her blood. So, after a 30-year hiatus, Juanita decided to donate her platelets and plasma, specifically to help those who were sick.

As Juanita explains, “I had COVID; I know what it feels like. I feel very fortunate that I was not in the hospital like others, suffering.”

Before Juanita took ill, her father experienced a rapid decline due to an unrelated, pre-existing condition. Sick and isolated, Juanita endured her father’s failing health, his subsequent admission to the hospital, and his untimely demise. After a horrific year of unrest, sickness, and death, Juanita is determined to turn her tribulations into positive outcomes through regular blood donations.

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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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