Thursday, April 19, 2018

My Red Cross Disaster Volunteer Story: Bill Sien

Written by: Rose Ellen O’Connor, volunteer

It was a blustery February day and it had been a busy one for Bill Sien, 77. He was one of 25 volunteers, coordinating with the fire chief and his crew, to fan out to 185 homes in Manassas, VA, offering fire safety tips and smoke alarms free of charge to residences. At the end of the day, they had installed 156 alarms in 46 homes as part of the Red Cross’ house fire prevention program called Sound the Alarm.

One of those homes, in particular, stood out for Bill.

He had been inside for about a half-an-hour installing smoke alarms on both floors and two bedrooms. As he was preparing to leave, the women living in the home broke into a big smile and said, “I know you.” It clicked for Bill. It had been a far less pleasant experience the last time they’d met. A few months earlier, she and her family – a boyfriend and a small child – had lost their home, also in Manassas, in a fire.

Bill, a DAT (Disaster Action Team) lead responder had arrived on the scene to find chaos. The residents were immigrants from Nepal and had no other family to turn to for help. The anxiety and confusion were typical of a house fire scene.

“They’re very distraught,” Bill says. “They’re confused. They don’t know what to do. I mean, this is the worst day of their life and they’re so happy to have someone help them walk it through. We give them a list of things they need to do.”

“They need to get all of their essential items out of the house – items like a charger for their phone, wallet, drivers license, anything that they can’t live without, prescription drugs and things like that.”

The family was able to get out essentials but little else. Bill arranged for lodging for them and gave them blankets and a Red Cross pamphlet that goes through all the things that need to be done to recover from a fire, step by step. He also gave them “comfort bags” filled with toiletries, including a toothbrush and comb. The woman was so grateful that she gave him a big hug when he left.

Flash forward to the February day when she was in her new home with four new fire alarms.

“I told her this is so much better than that last experience and you could see the joy in her face. I said you know you’re doing something preventative here so you can avoid what you went through the last time.”

When Bill isn’t volunteering for the Red Cross, he’s running his own business. He coordinates wireless mikes on game days for the NFL, the Washington Nationals and the University of Maryland. He lives with his wife, Teresa, in Haymarket, VA, and likes to spend time with his two children and five grandchildren, including a set of twins, all who live in the area.

Join the National Capital Region at upcoming Sound the Alarm events! 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

My Red Cross Blood Donor Story: George DeFilippi

Written by: Rose Ellen O’Connor, volunteer

When his older son, Geoffrey, was a toddler, a nurse at the doctor’s office commented on how long he bled after a finger prick. George DeFilippi and his wife Patricia didn’t think much of it. Then his second son James came along in 1978 and they were given a diagnosis. It was not good. Both sons had hemophilia, a bleeding disorder in which the blood does not clot normally and bleeding can be uncontrolled and spontaneous.

“We were scared,” George says.

George, a retired Air Force Colonel, was then stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, just outside Dayton, OH. When word got out of his sons’ hemophilia, the community rallied around his family.

“A bunch of our friends, unbeknownst to us, had a blood drive for us. There were 90 people that donated blood. A variety of them were scared about getting stuck with a needle, but they donated nonetheless,” George recalls. “We were just shocked and immensely grateful. We couldn’t believe the outpouring. That people would do such a thing for us was just a marvelous feeling.”

That was George’s first experience with the Red Cross. He was so moved he wanted to give back and began donating blood. Since 1978, he has given blood or platelets a little over 240 times. He started out giving blood, which can be donated every 56 days. He wanted to do more so he switched to platelets, which can be given 24 times a year or about every two weeks. George, 70, has slowed down a bit and now gives between 15 and 20 times a year. The process takes about two and a half hours.

As it turned out, George says, his sons had mild cases of hemophilia and only needed transfusions when they had injuries, probably a couple of times a month. As youngsters, they played a variety of sports and rollerbladed. They were very good at rollerblading but occasionally would fall, scrape a knee and need to be infused. George and his wife learned to do the infusions at home so they could usually avoid the hospital, but not always. Geoffrey, for example, had a bad sprain in the knee and was hospitalized for a couple of days.

As a youngster, James was a daredevil. He would get gashes in his head that would have to be treated.

“We found him a couple of times stacking chairs on top of chairs to try to get to cookies that were on top of the refrigerator when he was three or four,” George says. “He always was kind of a risk taker, doing those kinds of things where he would stretch the limits of his balance.”

Both sons are now in their 40’s and are healthy and very athletic. Geoffrey mountain climbs and James competes in triathlons.

George lives with his wife Patricia in Falls Church, VA. Along with his sons, he has two daughters, Jocelyn and Gwendolyn. After he retired from the Air Force, he worked in government relations for Cobham, a defense contractor, and then as a Navy civil servant.

Learn more about donating blood at

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Flag from History

Written by: Joe J

I recently donated a flag displaying the Red Cross to the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region at their headquarters in Fairfax, VA. I’m a retired senior medical physician’s assistant now living in Virginia following retirement after having served 31 years with the Canadian Forces Medical Services. My American-born wife, Maya, and I came across the flag while preparing to downsize our home. This particular flag was a backup flag for a military medical facility in Daruvar, Croatia, during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the early 1990's. It was given to me by some of my soldiers on redeployment to Canada. The Red Cross symbol is used by the military of many nations to identify medical personnel and facilities protected under the rules of the Geneva Conventions. 

Canada was one of several countries participating in a United Nations Peace Keeping Force (UNPROFOR). Canada’s participation was known as Operation Harmony.

I went to Daruvar in 1992 to augment the staff, as the senior noncommissioned officer, of a Battalion Medical Station already deployed to Daruvar. Most of the troops at that time were in Sarajevo and the city was under constant sniper fire and frequent shelling and mortar fire. Part of my job was to establish a semi-permanent medical clinic in Daruvar in preparation for the medical resources redeploying from Sarajevo. Although quieter than Sarajevo, Daruvar was in the conflict zone where the occasional gunshot or explosion was heard. The medical station was established in part of an orphanage/school where many children were homeless and without family as a result of fighting in Croatia.  

Many of the troops, including the medical personnel, returning from Sarajevo had witnessed the gruesomeness of war as played out during the Siege of Sarajevo, particularly along one of the main roads that became known as “Sniper Alley” because of the indiscriminate sniping, from hills surrounding the city, at civilians going about their chores and trying to survive in their war-torn city.  

In one particular instance, the medical personnel and other soldiers participated in the rescue and initial treatment of up to 10 children, aged seven to 10, killed or severely injured as a result of a mortar round landing in their midst. The children frequently visited the building where the Canadian contingent was established. The troops on the lower level would often pass them food, usually candy, and the children would scurry off to a particular area to enjoy their treats. Unfortunately, and perhaps deliberately, a mortar round fell among them.   

Needless to say, some of the medical staff and other soldiers were psychologically traumatized by what they witnessed and experienced. It often manifested itself in bouts of depression, nightmares, not eating or difficulty carrying out daily tasks.  In one instance, I found a soldier sitting alone on a stone wall of a of a destroyed house. I watched him for a while, as the soldier smoked cigarette after cigarette. I went over to him, sat beside him for a while before asking him, “How are you doing?” The soldier immediately burst into tears and after much sobbing related what he saw and his participation in the rescue of the children. He was one of the soldiers who that day had given the children candy. Post-deployment psychological counseling was provided to all who had such experiences.

I was very appreciative of the professionalism and bravery of the medical personnel that staffed the Battalion Medical Station during my time in Daruvar, and I will always be grateful that I was a part of that team. To be given the flag was an honor and to have it accepted by the Red Cross means that perhaps once again it will be used to symbolize a place of aid and comfort and sanctuary.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My IN THE BAG Red Cross Story: Alyce Phinney

Written by: Rose Ellen O’Connor, volunteer

On a spring morning two years ago, Alyce Phinney was waiting for the school bus at an Alexandria bus stop when she heard a neighbor’s house had caught fire. After loading her two boys on the bus, she drove to the neighbor’s house to see if she could help and ended up taking the family’s little girl to school. It seemed firetrucks were everywhere at the scene and the family looked distraught. They carried what they could gather from the house in garbage bags.

Alyce was proud, but not surprised, to see the Red Cross there. Every eight minutes the organization responds to a house fire. Red Crossers arranged lodging for the family, calmly told family members what they needed to do, and offered blankets and toiletry bags. Alyce was on her way that morning to a kick-off meeting for the upcoming fall IN THE BAG event, which auctions designer handbags to raise money for the Red Cross. She told committee members how moved she was to see the Red Cross instilling calm where there was palpable panic.

“Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about,” Alyce says. “We want to be proud of our event, we want to auction great looking handbags, but the most important thing is to be reminded why we do this work.”

IN THE BAG was started eight years ago by Red Cross volunteer Brenda Blisk. The committee solicits new or gently used designer handbags, among them Gucci, Kate Spade and Michael Kors. Last November the event auctioned 147 handbags, ranging in price from $200 to $1,350. The auction raised $133,000 in less than three hours.

Alyce, 44, is uniquely qualified to solicit handbags for the event. She has worked for 10 years in the handbag department at Neiman Marcus and has a close relationship with many of the women who buy purses from her. A longtime client, Dr. Marta Wilson, brought her to the event as a guest five years ago, thinking Alyce would have a great network for soliciting bags. She was right. Almost half of the bags sold at last year’s auction – 70 of 147 – came from Alyce’s contacts.

“I’m like a constant cheerleader. I send an email out to my clients. I talk about this event all the time at work,” Alyce says. “You know it’s hard to go to a client and say, ‘Hey, do you have eleven hundred and fifty dollars to contribute to the Red Cross?’ But it’s easy to say, ‘Do you have something in your closet that you’re not enjoying anymore? Do you want to donate it to help save a life?”

Alyce says clients are thankful for the chance to contribute.

“I’m grateful to them for giving,” Alyce says, “but on the flipside, as they are giving me the handbag, they always thank me for being involved in this so they can make this kind of contribution.”

She says she was “blown away” by the professionalism and attention to detail when she first came to the event five years ago. She was introduced to Brenda Blisk and asked if she could help. “I said if you’ll have me, I’ll make the commitment right here and now that I will serve on the committee for next year.”

She now co-chairs a subcommittee of 30 women who oversee handbags for the auction. Each of the women contributes a bag for the event. They also get contributions from companies and sometimes they get help from unexpected places. Two years ago, a woman from New York City found the charity on the internet. They never met her but she contributed a black vintage Hermes bag that sold for $3,000.

Most contributions, however, come through networking. One of Alyce’s clients, Carol Chill, had recently lost her husband and was sorting through her belongings. She found five bags she wanted to donate, including a 15-year-old Gucci brown tote that still had the tickets on it. It went for $1,150. It was on sale for $600 when Carol bought it, but its age made it vintage and thus more valuable.

“It had been sitting in her closet all those years, nobody enjoying it,” Alyce says. “She was tickled.”

Alyce and fellow committee members are now preparing for this year’s auction on November 16. Bags have to be solicited and then cleaned, sorted and tagged for the event. She’s made it a family affair. Her son Tobey, 10, helped clean and tag the bags last year, and her seven-year-old son, Lucas, helped clean. And they’ll be back this year, she says. “It’s a great way to do volunteer work with your children.”

For more information on this year’s auction, visit

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Blood Services Volunteer of the Month: Virgie Sullivan

Virgie Sullivan volunteers at the Dr. Charles R. Drew Donor Center in Washington, DC as a Blood Donor Ambassador. In addition to donating blood herself, Virgie can be relied upon to volunteer almost every Friday and has done so since 2005! 

Born in Wilson, NC, Virgie moved to the DC area for work in 1974. She has one daughter, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren! 

Virgie initially volunteered at blood drives at her place of employment starting in the 1990's. When she retired after 30 years of government service, she started helping out at the donor center and has been a fixture there ever since

In addition to her work with the Red Cross, Virgie volunteers very often for her church, where she helps with the food bank, cooks for special events, mentors young women, assists seniors and sings in the choir. Her free time consists of exercise, looking out for neighborhood children and taking trips to visit family in NC. Virgie is busy all the time! 

Meeting our blood donors and talking with them is what Virgie enjoys most about volunteering at blood drives. She finds it commendable that some of the donors wait for quite awhile and still have a pleasant attitude about donating blood. She enjoys talking to and thanking donors, and has gotten to know many donors by name.

Please join us in congratulating Virgie Sullivan – Volunteer of the Month for April 2018!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

My Lifesaving Red Cross Blood Donor Story: Virginia Hamilton

Written by: Rose Ellen O’Connor, volunteer

Virginia Hamilton is still moved by a letter she received some three decades ago from the American Red Cross. It thanked her for saving a life. Virginia, 73, had been donating blood since her 20’s and platelets since her 30’s, but this was a special case.

A little boy who had a bone marrow transplant was in the hospital and not doing well. The Red Cross asked if she would be willing to donate platelets continuously over a period of months and she said yes. For the first several weeks, Virginia went in three days a week to donate at the Red Cross office in Merrifield, VA. The next several weeks, she came in twice a week, then once a week, then once every other week and then once a month. The Red Cross was so concerned she would be dangerously low in proteins because of all the blood she was donating that they recommended she consume extra nutrients. She drank a glass of milk with a peanut butter sandwich for lunch every day and had a daily bowl of rice and beans. By the time she finished donating it was Christmas and the little boy was better.

“They sent me a note saying he got to home for Christmas,” Virginia says. “He wasn’t doing very well and then he got my blood and he got better. I really was walking around on a cloud for a very long time.”

Sometimes it was hard to get the blood from Virginia because she has one arm where the veins “roll” when the needle is inserted. “They brought in a special nurse and she was really good at getting the needle in so they could get the platelets out,” Virginia says.

Virginia has AB positive blood, which is rare, and there is not a lot of demand for it, so she started donating platelets instead. She estimates that she gave five gallons of platelets to the Red Cross from her 20’s to her 50’s. For the next 10 years she donated to Inova Fairfax Hospital because it had blood donation centers that were closer to her job or her home. She has no estimate of how much blood she gave to Inova. Virginia stopped giving blood a couple of years ago after a couple of failed attempts to draw her blood.

“After 50 years of giving blood, its time for someone else to take over,” Virginia says.

Virginia’s family’s commitment to donating blood spans three generations. She was inspired by her aunts who started giving blood during World War II and then just kept it up afterwards. Virginia’s daughter started giving blood as soon as she was old enough. For years she had accompanied her mother on her treks to give blood, first to the Red Cross downtown and later, when it opened up, to the office in Merrifield, which was much closer to home.

Virginia lives in Sterling, VA with her cockatoo, Charlie. She has a daughter Mary Ann. She’s retired from a job in construction where she reviewed blueprints and estimated building costs.

The need is constant. The gratification is instant. Give blood. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Clara Barton: Our Real-Life Superhero

Written by: Michelle Karch

1861-1865 Civil War. Clara Barton was there. Risking her life in the battlefields, she provided food, medical and clothing supplies, and emotional support to soldiers both in the field and in temporary facilities. She helped locate 13,000 graves and create a national cemetery for the prison war’s dead in Andersonville, GA.

1882 & 1883 Mississippi River Floods. Clara Barton was there. From aboard the ship Mattie Belle, she directed relief efforts.

1888 Yellow Fever Epidemic, Jacksonville, FL. Clara Barton was there too. She coordinated relief efforts with the Howard Association.

1892 Famine, Russia. Clara Barton organized the first international assistance by sending flour and cornmeal to Russia that fed over 7,000 people.

Vanguard. Maverick. Pioneer. Superhero.

Clara Barton worked across America and Europe. She soared beyond her own and others’ limitations; boundlessly courageous, she did what could be seen as impossible. These events represent just a small sampling of Clara’s seemingly omnipresent and heroic assistance in the name of service to American military members and relief during and following natural disasters.

“No” was not in her vocabulary. Clara pursued three US Presidents before she was able to establish authorization for an American Red Cross. When one US President, Rutherford B. Hayes uttered no, she doggedly pursued his successor, President James Garfield. Unfortunately, Garfield was assassinated before support could be authorized. Undeterred and relentless, Clara again sought support from a third President, Chester Arthur. This time Clara received her yes. She struggled with exhaustion and depression, even losing her eyesight temporarily. Yet her unflinching devotion to helping others is what kept her going and led her to bring the Red Cross from Europe to establish the American Red Cross.

Be inspired. Be Determined. Be Courageous. Do what others deem impossible and celebrate Clara Barton. Explore your inner superhero through the American Red Cross. Volunteer. Donate. Support. Continue to inspire.

Learn more about Clara’s heroic, lifelong efforts at: