Thursday, July 20, 2017

My Red Cross Story: Gabrielle and Karen DeThomas

Written by: Rebecca Churchill, volunteer

People are motivated to volunteer for the Red Cross for many different reasons. In Karen DeThomas’ case, she finds comfort and purpose doing volunteer work like her daughter, Gabrielle, did when she was a freshman in high school. As a Foreign Service family, they lived all over the world, including Ethiopia and Mexico where Karen taught English to local children. The family made efforts to integrate themselves into their new communities. “We do these things, especially in difficult places, to be involved, to keep that human connection going, and to try to contribute to the big picture,” she said. The family subsequently returned stateside, and although Gabrielle was a typical teen in many respects, she was also much more mature and aware than her peers. Gabrielle sought out volunteering for the Arlington Red Cross as a phone receptionist but quickly found her stride working at the canteen as a BSYV (Blood Services Youth Volunteer). She even wrote about her passion for volunteering at the Red Cross in an English class essay where she stated, “My secret love is not some untouchable movie star or a handsome upperclassman. I love my volunteer work.”

The following year, the DeThomas family moved to Vienna, Austria in the summer of 1997. That fall, Gaby was stricken with bacterial meningitis on November 30 and died the next day. “Gaby’s short life was so important to me, she was [an] amazing young girl and our life in the Foreign Service made a great impression on her.” Karen has recently retired from the National Air and Space Museum and now volunteers as a blood donor ambassador in the Arlington and Silver Spring offices of the Red Cross. “Blood drives save lives; you can’t get around that. I am just a mom who wants to keep her daughter’s memory alive. Doing this [work] makes me feel closer to her, and I have chosen good things to honor her with, and I do it happily.” In discussing the importance of the Red Cross and volunteering, Karen said, “This should be our national conversation. A few hours a week can allow for marvelous things. You don’t have to give up something to be a volunteer. It is essential to our lives to understand, and to be relevant. Joy and sorrow can live companionably in my heart. As long as I can be around, I will be volunteering.”

You can help!
The Red Cross is facing a critical blood shortage this summer and has issued an emergency call for eligible blood and platelet donors of all blood types to roll up a sleeve now to help save lives. Blood donations are being distributed to hospitals faster than donations are coming in, and more donations are needed now to replenish the supply.

  • Click here to find a blood drive near you
  • Use the Blood Donor App, visit or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to schedule your blood or platelet donation appointment
  • Encourage friends, family members and your social networks to make an appointment to donate blood or platelets this summer

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