Thursday, June 21, 2018

My Red Cross Volunteer Story: Jane Callen

By Rose Ellen O'Connor, Volunteer

Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast with deadly force in August 2005 and Jane Callen watched the news accounts with horror. Thousands of people were stranded, injured and dying and pleading for help. Bodies were floating in the streets. Jane felt compelled to act. She took a three-week leave of absence from her job as the Economic Information Officer for the U.S. Department of Commerce and went to the Gulf Coast with the Red Cross.

Jane volunteering as part of the
 relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina.
“Seeing those images, how could one not have been moved to help?” Jane asks.

Since then, Jane, named Montgomery County, Maryland’s volunteer of the year last month, has served in countless ways. She’s climbed a mountain in Nepal to help victims of an earthquake and reached out to survivors of hurricanes in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Here at home, she volunteers as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and the EMS Lieutenant with the Glen Echo Fire Department, is a member of the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, and sits with the dying in hospice care.

The desire to help is a glue that binds volunteers, Jane says.

At first, those who came to help after Hurricane Katrina struck seemed to have little in common and were a bit standoffish. As a woman working atop a truck hoisting heavy loads of water, ice and other supplies, dripping with sweat, days without a shower, hair wild, she caught some second looks. But within a week, differences such as background, politics, and education fell away. They were united by a shared commitment to help.

After a long, hot day, looking for survivors, they would return to their base, collapse into flimsy camping chairs, and each throw back a Bud Light. Then they would forage for food, opening up a can of whatever they could find. Jane’s a vegetarian, so finding food could be challenging. Her fellow volunteers would tease her, asking if she wanted cans containing beans flavored with bacon. Then they would head to their bedroll and go to sleep on a concrete floor.

Together, they saw many gut-wrenching scenes. There were the poor neighborhoods where people were already living on the edge before the hurricane and now were desperate, their basic needs not being met.

“Part of what made it possible to continue was we were there for each other,” Jane says. “We stayed in touch long after that trip.”

Jane volunteering as part of the
relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina.

In April 2015, Jane went to Nepal for two weeks after a devastating earthquake. Her team of four spent a day climbing a grueling mountain path to reach a village in need. They made it to the top and a huge earthquake – magnitude 7.3 – struck not far away. Buildings collapsed around them and the path they had taken was buried by dirt and boulders. They treated the most badly injured late into the night. It was an enormous challenge getting the most seriously injured off the mountain. Villages and volunteers worked together to build a fire of rags in hopes that a helicopter would spot them. An Army chopper saw the flames and came.

Late that night, the team tried to get word to their families back home that they were okay. Aftershocks were coming every few minutes. They crawled on their hands and knees around the mountain top, waving their phones in the air, trying to find a signal. No luck. Jane felt physical pain thinking what her family must be going through.

Around 4 a.m., Jane awoke to dozens of tiny hands on her tent. Village children were peering in to see who was there. Many of the children needed attention for injuries and conditions unrelated to the earthquake because they didn’t have access to proper medical care. The volunteers got up and tended to the children’s medical needs as best they could. All the while, Jane could not stop worrying about what her family might be thinking. Later that morning, a man arrived who had fallen off a motorbike while ascending the mountain during the second earthquake. He had a cell phone and the volunteers were thrilled when they realized it worked. Jane called her husband.

“The fact that I was alive and standing there on that mountain bathed in sunshine, hearing my husband’s voice – it was a brilliant, shining moment,” Jane says.

Jane’s memories of Nepal are flooded with the images of families standing in front of piles of total wreckage that once had been their homes. They were smiling. In the midst of disaster, they appeared happy and grateful to be alive. They welcomed the volunteers as their friends.

“The radiance of the Nepalese,” Jane says, “is beyond even the reach of an earthquake.”

Jane volunteering in Nepal for the devastating earthquake.
In September 2017, Jane deployed to Jacksonville, Florida and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, to help victims of Hurricane Irma. It was still raining in St. Thomas and trees and twisted power lines littered the streets. The island had no power.

In Jacksonville, the storm surge had not receded entirely days after the storm. The volunteers went to visit an elderly couple who had shuttered themselves into their home. They both were in declining health, and the home had been in the family for decades. The couple was determined not to be uprooted. Mold had begun growing on the walls and the scene was heartbreaking, Jane says. They respected the couple’s wish to stay. The two had lost so much and Jane didn’t want them to lose their dignity. The volunteers opened doors and windows, set up a dehumidifier and some fans to get fresh air moving. They made sure the couple had plenty of drinking water and knew who to call for help.

As is too often the case with disasters, there can be so much sadness that sometimes it is difficult to know what to say. After Hurricane Irma, a woman came in to get her vital signs checked. It turned out she and her family had lost their home when Hurricane Harvey struck Texas a month earlier. Then the temporary housing they had found in Florida was wiped out by Hurricane Irma. She and her husband and two children had been living in their car when social services took their children away. In the midst of all of this, she had a stroke. Jane convinced her to go to the hospital and the volunteers also guided her to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local social services for assistance finding her children.

But there was also joy in the smallest of things. Jane recalls an elderly woman in a shelter in St. Thomas. The woman was blind, unable to walk, and terminally ill. She’d been in hospice care before the hurricane, but shelter workers couldn’t reach the hospice so she was not receiving any pain medication. But she never complained. One day she told Jane she’d really like some strawberry-vanilla ice cream. Here they were, in the middle of an island in blazing heat without power. But it was the one thing she’d asked for. Jane found a car and driver and they negotiated the debris, moving at a crawl to the only open grocery store. Most of the shelves were empty but unbelievably there in the freezer was one quart of strawberry-vanilla ice cream. They inched slowly back to the shelter through snarled traffic and brutal heat and somehow the ice cream didn’t melt. Jane joyfully handed it to the woman.

Jane volunteering in Nepal for the devastating earthquake.
“Her face opened into the most magnificent smile as she felt the cold container in her hand and seconds later tasted the ice cream,” Jane recalls. “It was magic.”

Here at home, Jane deploys most Monday nights as an EMT and EMS Lieutenant with the Glen Echo Fire Department. A fair number of calls are for cardiac emergencies. Administering CPR is hard and scary, although training tempers the fear. As a crew, everyone is working together like mad trying to revive the patient. It’s exhausting, physically and emotionally. But on those occasions when you are able to bring someone back after a heart attack? It’s beyond amazing, she says.

Jane helped develop the Advanced Life Support (ALS) program at the Glen Echo Fire Department. ALS provides a higher level of pre-hospital care for the most severe medical emergencies, such as unconscious patients and cardiac events. It requires a vehicle equipped with more sophisticated and expensive technology, such as a 12-lead cardiac monitor. Jane and the fire chief met with Montgomery County officials and proposed a pilot program. Their station would raise the money to pay for the equipment and train volunteers to staff the vehicle. After six months, the pilot was declared a success and became permanent.

At least once a week, Jane volunteers at the JSSA (Jewish Social Service Agency) hospice. She also visits two people who were diagnosed with six months or less to live several years ago. They left the hospice program, but she continues to visit them.

Jane often brings her Yorkie, Callie, with her. Callie went through the PAL (People Animals Love) certification program and is trained for hospice care. Patients love Callie: she’s eight pounds of affection. She will crawl right into bed with someone, lie against them, cuddle and lick them, Jane says.

Jane volunteering in Nepal for
the devastating earthquake.
Jane also brings along a body tambura, a musical instrument developed in India to help alleviate the pain of patients in hospices that can’t afford pain medication. The instrument is placed on the person’s body. A study at St. Joseph’s Hospice for Dying Destitute/South India found the patient’s pain was cut in half after a relatively brief exposure and cut in half again the next day. Jane contacted the study’s author and found she could get a body tambura in Germany -- and had one made.

Jane’s interest in hospice care was sparked by the extremely different experiences of her father and mother at the end of life. Her father died in 2002 after a drawn-out battle with colon cancer. Jane recalls the hospice caregivers that came to her parents’ home lecturing her father about dying instead of listening to what he had to say. It broke him and all of the family, she says.

Ten years later, her mother came to live – and die – in Jane and her husband’s home. Her mother’s doctor, who was associated with the JSSA, made house calls and guided them through the hospice process with kindness and understanding – as well as enormous competence.

“After that experience, which I would characterize as a good – even healing – death, I became an evangelist for dying well,” Jane says. “The hospice team can make all the difference.”

Jane’s mother took her final breath within seconds of the earthquake that struck Maryland in August 2011. Jane’s son had just moved back from California and had the presence of mind to tell everyone to get to a doorway. A little while later, Jane and a few close women friends and family gently washed her mother’s body, all the while singing to her. As Jane sat by her mother, more friends began showing up with fresh flowers and herbs from their gardens and they lay them on and around her mother’s body. Some friends played music. After the sun set, it seemed the right time to bring her mother’s body out and as they emerged they found people with candles lining the path from house to street.

“That set the tone for my work in hospice, really,” Jane says.  “The possibility of a beautiful experience around death.”

Jane is one of 11 master trainers for Maryland Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment. MOLST is a document that captures people’s end of life wishes. It goes way beyond its predecessor, the Do Not Resuscitate Order. It captures a patients’ wishes for a host of treatments, such as whether they want feeding tubes to be put in or to be transported to a hospital.  Jane and the other master trainers travel around the state educating health professionals, assisted living facilities, and the public in how to use the MOLST form.

Jane was named Montgomery County, Maryland’s
Volunteer of the Month earlier this Spring.

Jane, 57, has two masters degrees: one in social work and the other in government. She is the senior editor and writer at the U.S. Census Bureau. She lives in Bethesda, MD with her husband, Harry Lewis, and their two Yorkies, Callie and Cruiser. Her one adult son is engaged and Jane says she’s looking forward to grandchildren.

The third of four sisters, Jane says her parents chose to settle in Chevy Chase because they believed the Washington area was ground zero for civil and human rights volunteer work. Jane’s father, Dr. Earl Callen, a college physics professor and department chair at American University, started the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area. He was also on the Helsinki Watch Committee, whose mission was to monitor the former Soviet Union’s compliance with the Helsinki Accords, agreements to accept the post-World War II status quo in Europe.

Jane Callen
He regularly traveled back and forth to the Soviet Union to try to help “Refusniks,” -- scientists being persecuted and prevented from leaving. Dr. Callen frequently testified before Congress on this and other issues. He also was an outspoken anti-war activist and was frequently interviewed because, as a physicist, he could provide unique insight into nuclear war.

Jane’s mother, Anita Callen, was a stay-at-home mom and her quiet presence was the yin to her father’s yang, Jane says.

Jane recalls bouncing on her father’s shoulders amidst a sea of people as they headed toward the Lincoln Memorial, joining Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington. It was her father’s 39th birthday – August 28, 1963. She knew they were among a minority of white people and that it was important to be there, to stand up for civil rights. It was one more lesson on the importance of taking action, a father-to-daughter message that has shaped her life.

“That was such an important lesson, taking action not for self-gain but for a greater good – without regard to personal risk,” Jane says. “Throughout his life, my father demonstrated the importance of always showing up.”

Monday, June 18, 2018

What to know before you go: Tips for a first-time blood donor

The American Red Cross recently launched the Missing Types campaign to raise awareness of the need for new blood donors – and those who haven’t given in a while – to donate and help ensure lifesaving blood is available for patients in need. During the campaign, A’s, B’s and O’s – representing the main blood groups – have gone missing from signage, websites, social media and other public-facing platforms to illustrate the critical role every blood donor plays.

The message is clear, donors are needed now to help fill the gaps. If you’ve never donated before or haven’t in a while, now is the time to make an appointment to give.

If you’re nervous, have no fear, the Red Cross has 6 simple tips to get you ready for a successful donation experience:

1. Make an appointment time that’s convenient for your schedule.
2. Get a good night’s sleep.
3. Hydrate – drink plenty of water.
4. Eat a healthy meal including iron-rich foods.
5. Complete a RapidPass to speed up the donation process.
6. Relax and remember you’re helping save lives!

Still feeling a little hesitant? 
Give your confidence a boost by hearing Red Cross pros share their tips to prepare. You can do this! 

Ready to become a Red Cross blood donor, and join the #MissingType movement?  
1. Schedule your appointment at or with the Blood Donor App.
2. Encourage a friend or family member to roll up a sleeve too.
3. Spread the word!

  • Take a photo with a selfie sign and post it to your social media along with the message “I am the #MissingType.” 
  • Write out your name with the A’s, B’s and O’s missing on the “blank” selfie sign, and take a photo with it. (Underscores are recommended. Example: _meric_n Red Cr_ss)
  • Visit to share a Missing Types message on your social media.

Remember, without A, B and O, we can’t save anybody.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Blood Services Volunteer of the Month: Hillary Sandy

Hillary Sandy has been providing excellent customer service to donors at the Dr. Charles R. Drew Donor Center in DC since March of 2013! She volunteers as a Blood Donor Ambassador most Fridays and several Mondays each month.

Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Hillary came to the area on her 21st birthday. Hillary is a nurse by profession and an Army veteran. She was mobilized to Germany in 2011, where she volunteered with the Red Cross and USO. Since her retirement, Hillary took the opportunity to volunteer with the American Red Cross.

Hillary comes from a family that is rooted in community service. Her mother was a nurse and midwife, and volunteer work has always been part of Hillary’s upbringing. In addition to volunteering at blood drives, Hillary volunteers at the VA and is a Deputy Representative for military families, veterans and active service members. She also volunteers at her church, and helps elderly people in her community with grocery shopping and transport to and from medical appointments.

On top of all her volunteer work, Hillary still finds time six days a week to exercise at Rock Creek Park. She loves to travel and has been all over the world, particularly Europe.

Hillary’s favorite aspect of volunteering at the donor center is talking with and helping the blood donors. “Being gracious to [the donors] for donating their blood” is of the utmost importance to her.

Please join us in congratulating Hillary Sandy – Blood Services Volunteer of the Month for June 2018!

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Where did A, B & O go? Red Cross needs YOU to fill the Missing Types

N_tice _nything missing? A few missing letters may not seem like a big deal, but for a hospital patient who needs type A, B or O blood, these letters mean life. 

As part of an international movement, the American Red Cross is launching the Missing Types campaign to raise awareness of the need for new blood donors – and those who haven’t given in a while – to donate and help ensure lifesaving blood is available for patients in need. You may notice A’s, B’s and O’s – representing the main blood groups – missing from signage, websites, social media and other public-facing platforms to illustrate the critical role every blood donor plays.

The sad fact is that blood shortages are not uncommon in the U.S. and other parts of the world. But they can be prevented when more people roll up a sleeve to give.

When blood types go missing 

“Can you imagine your child or loved one actually needing lifesaving blood and to be told there may be no blood at the blood bank? That happened to us two times with blood and platelets,” said Susie Dotson, whose daughter Lily needed more than a dozen blood and platelet transfusions during treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Hearing that the hospital didn’t have the blood or platelets Lily needed – and that she would have to wait for transfusions – was incredibly frustrating and eye-opening for the Dotson family.
“People automatically think blood is there. They don’t realize we’re relying on their blood donation,” said Susie. “Lily needed blood products just as much as the chemo or the treatment.”

Today, Lily has been cancer-free for four years and will be celebrating her 12th birthday this summer. 

Join the movement

  1. Give blood – Schedule your appointment at or with the Blood Donor App.
  2. Recruit new donors – Encourage a friend or family member to roll up a sleeve too.
  3. Spread the word – 
    • Take a photo with one of these selfie signs and post it to your social media along with the message “I am the #MissingType.” 
    • Write out your name with the A’s, B’s and O’s missing on the “blank” selfie sign, and take a photo with it. (Underscores are recommended. Example: _meric_n Red Cr_ss)
    • Visit to share a Missing Types message on your social media.

What to expect at your donation

Giving blood is simple. Commit about an hour of your day to help save a life.

  • Registration – Sign in, show your ID and read the required information. 
  • Health check – Answer questions and receive a mini-physical. 
  • Donation – Giving a pint of blood takes about 8-10 minutes.
  • Refreshments – Enjoy some snacks and relax before resuming your day.
Speed up the donation process by completing the pre-donation reading and answering your health history questionnaire online with RapidPass on the day of your donation.

Y_u _re the #MissingType p_tients need. Don’t wait until the letters A, B and O go missing from the hospital shelves. Schedule your appointment to give now.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

CPR/AED Awareness Week: The Basics of How to Perform CPR and Use an AED

By Hailie Duenkel, Volunteer

June 1st – 7th is National CPR and AED Awareness Week. 

The Red Cross offers CPR training and AED course options for schools, employees, healthcare providers, and individuals both weekdays and weekends. Whatever class you decide to take, you can be confident you will leave the certification class feeling confident to accomplish life-saving resuscitation methods when someone goes into cardiac arrest.

CPR Training
CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) is an emergency process performed when someone’s heart stops beating. Performing CPR can triple the chances of the victim’s survival. Here are some basic concepts you will experience in a training course:

  • Call 911 and ensure the area is safe for you to approach the victim.
  • Check for breathing and tilt their head back to clear the airway.
  • If the person is not breathing, begin performing CPR:
    • Place your hands one on top of the other in the middle of the chest.
    • Push at a hard, fast past with a compression of about 2 inches deep.
    • Distribute 2 rescue breaths. 
    • Continue these steps until the person starts breathing or until a trained medical responder arrives.

    *Steps are different for a child or infant and are described here.

    AED Training
    When CPR is proving ineffective, an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) can be used to resuscitate victims when they go into cardiac arrest. An electric shock is sent to the heart to resume a heartbeat. An AED device can often be found in most offices and public buildings and having the certification to use one can prove detrimental in emergency situations. Below are steps in using an AED machine:

    • Turn on the AED machine and follow the audio commands. (The machine will tell you step-by-step instructions on what to do!)
    • Place AED pads on the victim’s bare chest where the machine indicates.
    • Ensure you and anyone else present are not touching the victim.
    • Press the “analyze” button for the machine to analyze the person’s heart.
    • If a shock is needed, the machine will tell you. Then press the “shock” button.
    • Begin CPR after the shock is delivered.

    The best way to deal with an emergency is to prepare for it. With topnotch instructors and recognized online courses, you can be certain you will receive the best training to keep you on your toes in a crisis situation. Go online to sign up for a CPR or AED training course so next time you can do more than just call 911. You can save a life.

    Wednesday, June 6, 2018

    Diana Davis: Red Cross Hero

    June 1-7 is designated as National CPR and AED Awareness Week. The American Red Cross, along with other National Cardiac Arrest Collaborative members, is stressing that every second counts in cardiac arrest and people can save lives by knowing how to perform CPR and use an AED.

    Written by Rose Ellen O'Connor, Volunteer

    It was a quiet evening last November when the panicked call came for help. Diana Davis’s 30-something neighbor was having a heart attack and his father-in-law wanted to know if anyone new CPR. Diana reacted on instinct.

    She ran across the street and found her neighbor, Bobby Clark, on the floor, his face purple and his eyes rolled back in his head. She pulled up his shirt and put two fingers to his throat looking for a heartbeat. There was none. Then she put her ear to his mouth and listened for breathing. Again, nothing. Finally, she checked his chest and found no movement. She began administering compressions to his chest, just as she learned in CPR class.

    He began taking shallow breaths that gradually moved closer together. When the paramedics arrived, they administered shocks to his heart and his normal color returned to his face. They told Diana she had saved her neighbor’s life. Her mother went with Bobby’s wife Jaime to the hospital and the doctors issued the same verdict: if Diana had not administered CPR, Bobby would have died.

    “I wasn’t really thinking anything. I just wanted to help,” Diana says.

    Knowing that she had saved a life was mind-blowing.

    “It’s an amazing feeling,” she says. “He changed my life and I definitely changed his. I feel like I have more purpose. I wanted to be a doctor before but now I know I’m going down the right path.”

    Diana, 18, who lives in Gaithersburg and is graduating from Northwest High School, received the Certificate of Merit from the Red Cross at a graduation awards ceremony in May. The American Red Cross in the National Capital Region will also be honoring her at its Annual Meeting on June 6.

    Diana Davis with American Red Cross,
    National Capital Region CEO, Linda Mathes.
    She learned CPR in a life guard class sponsored by the Red Cross. Diana was following in her two older brother’s footsteps, both of whom are lifeguards. She took CPR class again in a first aid class her sophomore year of high school, and was recertified before last summer’s lifeguard season began.

    Diana plans to start a Red Cross club at Montgomery College, which she will be attending in the fall.

    To see Diana receive the highest Red Cross award, the Certificate of Merit (signed by the President of the United States), click here: 

    Monday, June 4, 2018

    National CPR/AED Awareness Week: Step-by-step CPR Guide

    By Carly Flumer, Volunteer

    The first week of June is National CPR/AED Awareness Week, and the Red Cross wants you to know how to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) when an emergency occurs. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide that you can print and take with you.

    Before giving CPR:

    1. Check the scene to make sure it’s safe. Then tap the person and shout, “Are you okay,” to make sure that the person needs help.
    2. Call 911 for assistance. If help is required, call (or ask a bystander to call) 911, then send someone to get an AED. If an AED is not available or there is no bystander to assist, stay with the victim and begin giving assistance.
    3. Open the airway by having the person lay on his or her back. Tilt the head back slightly to lift the chin.
    4. Listen carefully for breathing, but no more than 10 seconds. (Occasional gasping sounds do not equal breathing). If there’s no breathing, begin CPR.
     Red Cross CPR Steps

    1. Push hard and fast by placing your hands, one on top of the other, in the middle of the chest. Use your body weight to help you administer 30 compressions that are at least two inches deep and delivered at a rate of 100 compressions per minute.
    2. With the person’s head tilted back slightly and the chin lifted, deliver rescue breaths by pinching the nose shut and placing your moth over the person’s mouth to make a complete seal. Blow into the person’s mouth to make the chest rise. Deliver two rescue breaths and then continue compressions. (Note: If the chest doesn’t rise with the initial rescue breath, re-tilt the head before delivering the second breath. If the chest doesn’t rise with the second breath, then the person may be choking. After each subsequent set of 30 chest compressions, and before attempting breath, look for an object and remove it, if  seen.) 
    3. Continue CPR steps. Keep performing cycles of chest compressions and breathing until the person begins breathing, an AED becomes available, or an EMS or a trained medical responder arrives. (Note: End the cycle if the scene becomes unsafe or you can’t continue performing CPR due to exhaustion.)

    To find a CPR training course, visit here: