Monday, October 31, 2011

It's Never Too Late to Learn CPR

When I first learned CPR, it wasn’t for anything special. It was for a job. I wanted to spend my summer outside, wear sunglasses, get the occasional glimpse of a girl my age in a swimsuit. I wanted my summer to be more like an 80s movie than work. I applied to be a lifeguard.

The CPR hardly seemed important. It was just a hoop I had to jump through to make my summer vacation ideal. Of course, I got lucky—I never had to perform CPR on a real person. That’s what I dreaded every morning when I woke up. That, and the more likely issue of having to get in the frigid water before the pool even opened for business.

I like to think I was ready if an accident did happen, but I never thought about the possibility that someone close to me would need emergency treatment.

Nancy, however, learned CPR for that very reason. I met her at a Red Cross First Aid and CPR class a few weeks ago. Even in her sixties, she’s beaming with more life than anyone in the class. I can imagine her reading a children’s book aloud to a captivated audience of little kids, or crossing the street with them, hand-in-hand—so it’s no surprise when she tells me she runs a day care. It’s no stretch of the imagination to think that she shows the same compassion for her husband, Ernest, or anyone else for that matter. Through large gold-rimmed glasses, she tells me about herself, and when she laughs, her whole body laughs with her.

After Ernest’s third heart attack, Nancy thought it was time she learned to respond in case tragedy struck again. She’s grateful that Ernest has made it this far, and she’s not leaving it up to chance anymore. She’s already lost too many people close to her.

When Nancy was 16, she fell in love with a young man named Robert, who she soon married. When he was 40, Robert was diagnosed with diabetes, and few years later, he suffered a heart attack. He made it to the hospital in time for the medical professionals to save him, but a few days later, complications from the diabetes took his life.

Nancy later remarried, to Willie. He had an enlarged heart, and at 44 he suffered a cardiac arrest that happened so quickly the ambulance didn’t even make it to the house in time to save him.

Several years later, Nancy met Ernest, and married him soon after. He’s 72 now, and he’s had three heart attacks and three heart surgeries. The most recent attack started with some chest pain. Ernest knew after the first two that this was a bad sign, and he headed straight for Metro South Medical Center. While sitting in the patient room, speaking to a nurse, Ernest collapsed—flat-lined. The staff responded immediately, and brought his heartbeat back. But that was too close for Nancy. She vowed to learn CPR in case an emergency like this happens again.

I spoke to Nancy again a few days after the class. When I called, I could hear the bustle of children at “Nancy’s Day Care” in the background. I imagined her there on the phone, still beaming—kids frolicking around her Chicago home, maybe one on her lap. She said that every morning now she wakes up and practices the CPR and First Aid she learned. She wants to be prepared in case one of these kids needs emergency care, too.

To find a CPR and First Aid class in your area, visit

Written by: Jonathan Bressler

Monday, October 24, 2011

Frayed Wires Cause Fires

Yamina and Amira stayed home from school last Wednesday with a shared case of pink-eye. Chiquita, their guardian, was at work when the two girls smelled smoke coming up through the vents, and heard the alarms blaring. They ran downstairs and started pounding on the door.
Chiquita rents the second-floor apartment from an elderly woman who lives downstairs with her son and caretaker Jerry. He was taking a midday nap, but the smoke alarms, and perhaps the girls pounding on the door, jolted him awake.

With the overwhelming stench, Jerry knew this wasn’t a false alarm. He swung open the basement door, and smoke poured out as if from a chimney. He couldn’t see a thing, and in the split second before dialing 9-1-1, Jerry mourned the probable death of the three pet turtles he kept in an aquarium downstairs.

The fire department appeared in seconds, and after putting the fire out, they showed Jerry where it all started: the downstairs refrigerator was plugged in to an extension cord, and when it sparked, the surrounding woodwork shot up in flames.

“It was plugged in like that for 50 years,” Jerry said. “I had no idea it was a problem.” The firefighters explained to Jerry that large appliances like refrigerators must be grounded—plugged into a three-prong outlet or power strip—and that electrical cords should be checked routinely, and replaced if frayed. Electrical fires are one of the leading causes of home fires. The U.S. Fire Administration provides tips for preventing these fires.

Jerry was down about the destruction caused by the fire, though he was glad that most of his and his mothers’ possessions were only tainted with the smell of smoke. “We’ve got 50 years’ worth of stuff down there,” he said. He still wore a smile, though: all three turtles survived.

Volunteers from the Red Cross were able to provide food and shelter to the people affected by this fire. Home fires are so commonplace that they often go unnoticed by the media, but they happen 2 to 3 times a day, every day in Chicagoland.

Make sure to inspect your home for fire hazards, and be active in preventing them. See the USFA page on home fire prevention, and our page on fire safety. The Red Cross offers a fire prevention program, Team Firestopper, which provides education and fire prevention activities in communities that are disproportionately affected by home fires. Team Firestopper volunteers conduct home hazard hunts to identify issues like this one before they cause destruction. For information about volunteering with Team Firestopper or to sign up for a visit to your home, go to

Written by: Jonathan Bressler

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Windy Welcome

The first impression Chicago made on this native Californian was on the flight here five years ago. Sitting next to me was one of those sweet, gentle-mannered ladies that reminded everyone of their favorite aunt or grandmother so you soon find yourself helplessly babbling on about your plans for the big city under the warm, fuzzy embrace of that empathetic glow. Just as we were about to part ways before the gate, said lady put a firm hand on my arm and looked into my eyes with all apparent seriousness as she warned: “just remember to put some rocks in your pocket before you go out in the winter. You’re so tiny!”

Well…that was bizarre…so I had filed the remark away as a strand of kookiness buried under all those layers of Midwestern charm—until one day that first winter I was trotting down the street and suddenly knew I had to come to a full stop and rebalance my weight, just so, you know, the gust wouldn’t sweep me away.

While I still couldn’t quite bring myself to pad up on the rocks, there are a couple of other things I learned to do to stay on my feet to adjust to the real possibility of hurricanes or almost hurricanes—as the storms we experienced over the last two days apparently were. The Red Cross has step-by-step Before, During, After, and Recovery action guidelines to help you make sure you and your loved ones stay safe and up to date. Know the difference between a Hurricane Watch and a Hurricane Warning. Download this handy checklist to post on the fridge.

Prolonged power outages are another effect of violent weather conditions that can be buffered with some simple preparation. Check out the Red Cross’s page on what to stock up when you’re in the dark and how to check in on how friends and family are doing in the aftermath of a disaster.

Written by: Christine Li

Monday, October 17, 2011

Starting Over: Former Red Cross Intern Shares his Recovery Story

Last Christmas, Zach Zimmerman, a former Red Cross intern, found himself in a similar position as the families he helped during his time here. His family was victim to a home fire sparked by a space heater. Now, 10 months later, Zach reflects on the process of recovery and how his experience at the Red Cross helped him get through the hard times.

It has been a long road for Zach’s family from the day the fire occurred to when his house was finally rebuilt. The weeks following the fire and Zach’s first encounter with his childhood home were particularly difficult, “Walking through the house, I'd see things from my childhood that were extremely sentimental and the remains of what my mom had worked so hard to create for us: a home.”

Eventually, his family regained hope that they could successfully pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives. “As new hardwood floors went in, debris and glass was taken out of the yard and a fresh coat of paint was applied, I found myself excited to move back in,” Zach said. “This fire helped me put a myriad of things into perspective. Things are really just things, and nothing comes to being more important than your family.”

Zach stressed the importance of a strong support system when going through a traumatic experience. Family and friends can be the rock you need for long term recovery. “Whether it’s helping you sort through the rubble, or simply taking you out for a much needed day of fun, your family and friends are the best healing doctors in the world.”

As Red Cross interns, we are able to accompany teams when they respond to actual home fires that occur in the greater Chicago region to help communicate with the families and see them through the disaster. Zach and I have both been on the scene while families cope with disaster. When I asked how his time at the Red Cross helped him recover he said, “With the experience seeing others deal with the devastation of a fire under my belt, talking to my family about the fire was easier for me. I knew what they needed to hear, and I also knew how to help them realize the positives in the situation.”

It is crucial to get a kit, make a plan, and be informed. Through this disaster, Zach and his family learned the importance of being prepared first hand. “We have created an emergency evacuation plan to be prepared if something like this ever happens again. It's critical that everyone knows what to do in a situation like that. Being prepared can only benefit you, so take the time to make sure you're ready to act when a disaster happens.”

The American Red Cross offers immediate support after a disaster, but long term recovery is equally important. For more on Zach’s experience, read his blog post.

Written by: Katie Donabedian

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What’s your number?

"Have you ever been asked 'What's your number?' or, better yet, 'What's your friend's number?'
In this tech-dependent culture, you may not know even your best friend's digits off the top of your head these days. I know I don't. Here we are in the midst of a Blackberry outage and have I saved my phone numbers somewhere on hard copy in case I can’t access them on my phone? Nope.
To admit this may render me a public disgrace to my employer (the Red Cross), but shamefully it’s true. I have a preparedness kit in my home, office and car and I’m trained in CPR and first aid but haven't backed up all the contact information on my phone. I haven’t taken this one simple step that could really make a difference if something unexpected happens. I talk to my sister in Michigan at least once a day but could I tell you her phone number if I needed to? Umm, sadly no I could not. She has an Indiana area code for some reason and that's about all I know...
Today I pledge to do one thing and that’s to print off my contacts in case I need them. I may even go a few steps further and save them to a zip drive and email them to myself so they live online too…
Read about more easy things you can do to save yourself a headache in a disaster or something as simple as a smart phone outage.

Martha Carlos is the Communications Director at the American Red Cross of Greater Chicago. She's hoping this shameful public confession will spur her on to(finally) do the right thing.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Patient Connection: Connecting Families to their Runners at the Chicago Marathon

Red Cross volunteers are buzzing around the medical tents at the Chicago Marathon. In the biggest tent, like a scene from M.A.S.H., rows of injured and exhausted runners recover in temporary cots from the previous twenty-six mile test. Spectators converge on Red Cross booths, desperately seeking their loved ones, fearing they’ve been injured or rushed to a hospital. The volunteers work with the Patient Connection program of Red Cross—set up to respond to mass disasters when they occur.

45,000 runners participated in the Chicago Marathon this year. With this many people pushing their bodies as far as they can go, you can imagine that quite a few drop out from exhaustion or injury. Even those who finish may not be capable of making it further than one of the cots in a medical tent. In cases like these, mothers and sons easily lose each other in the confusion. A woman might hear that her sister was injured, but has no idea where in this massive city she could be. That’s why Red Cross is here.

A man with his son approaches a volunteer at one of the tents. He's heard that his wife, a runner, was being held in a medical tent, but can’t find her. “They said she might be sent to the emergency room!” he says. The volunteer takes down the runner’s name and checks the runner’s location in a computer system, which shows the exact tent and cot number where the woman is. She tells the man his wife has been found, and she's being treated by the marathon’s team of trained medics. In 45 minutes, she’s on her feet and reunited with her family.

Volunteers on site enter the names of runners being sought by families into a computer system. Back at the Chicago Red Cross headquarters, Carol Mosley is on a computer in her office, with the “sought” list up on her screen, busily switching between websites, cross-checking the list with hospital admittances, tracking participants as they run, speaking to families on the phone. If a runner is admitted to the hospital, Carol contacts the person seeking them, and lets them know where to find their runner. Without this system in place, family members would be separated—they may find out that their runner has been hospitalized, but have no idea to which of the Chicago area hospitals they’ve been admitted.

The Chicago Marathon is a great opportunity for the Red Cross team to test out their ability to respond to large disasters where many people are hurt. Granted, we won’t get prior warning of a stadium collapse, or a train derailment, but the marathon gives volunteers an opportunity to implement their disaster response skills, and it’s reassuring to know that the systems in place have been put to the test. In the event of disaster, the primary concern is making sure loved ones are safe—Red Cross is here to help.

For more information on the Patient Connection program, visit:

Written by: Jonathan Bressler

Thursday, October 06, 2011

We’ll miss you, Steve Jobs

The topic of today’s elevator conversation is certainly, in most offices, the passing of Steve Jobs. We’re likely to see an article from every major news organization on the man’s life and vision, on his passion to change the world. There’s no denying his importance. In the late 1970s, when the energetic entrepreneur was first getting started, only a select few people understood the capacity of computers to change everything about our daily lives.

In his life of work, Jobs worked relentlessly to bridge the gap between human and machine—to make machines make our lives not just easier, but more interactive and more accessible. Thanks to one of his many infamous creations, the iPhone, we can look up restaurants or directions from just about anywhere. We can skype friends and family across the globe, far from a computer. We can get instant, up-to-date facts to resolve any bar dispute—from how many coins you can have and still not change a dollar, to who had the lowest E.R.A. in 1988, or the status of your neighbor’s relationship with that guy from the gym.

Of course, there are plenty of legitimately helpful uses for the iPhone as well. Let’s say, for example, disaster strikes. Who knows in what form—a flood, an earthquake, a tornado. You might lose your home, and need desperately to find a shelter. Well, there’s an app for that, too.

Or, if for some reason you don’t like the iPhone (we’re “don’t ask, don’t tell” on smart phone preference), there are some great apps for Android phones as well. Get an emergency first-aid & treatment guide to manage almost any medical emergency—useful to medical professionals from anywhere, even offline—or let Dr. Oz guide you through an emergency situation.

None of this would have been possible without Steve Jobs’ unique vision for changing the world. His work in developing the personal computer from a pipe dream to a device we carry in our pocket has allowed medical and emergency workers to perform their jobs quicker and more effectively. Computer systems now allow health care professionals to communicate patient information electronically, and every day we see new developments, things that will become essential to treatment and to emergency care. Jobs may have passed away, but his robust vision of change will not soon fade. Just see our blog post from two weeks ago: technology has become an integral part of health and emergency care, an integral part of nearly every facet of our lives, and we have few people to thank more than Steve Jobs.

Written by: Jonathan Bressler

Monday, October 03, 2011

Did you see Contagion and did it freak you out?

Doctors say that spread of a pandemic type virus in the movie Contagion has a kernel of truth. We aren’t trying to freak you out or scare you into bathing in vats of germ sanitizer but it’s something we should probably think about-especially when we all know flu season is coming to schools, daycares and offices near us. Below is an excerpt from story from USA Today on the subject and some of our thoughts on it.

Contagion has already has brought in more than $44 million at the box office in its two-week run. USA Today chatted with doctors and pharmacists who spend their days thinking, and sometimes experiencing, real-life worst-case scenarios when it comes to deadly epidemics. Contagion shows a world where the people who keep civilization together — police, firefighters, sanitation workers, supermarket clerks — are either sick, dead or at home with their families while garbage piles up, buildings burn unchecked, and gun-toting thieves ransack the suburbs for food.

The story goes onto say that it happened to a much lesser extent in Toronto during the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, which killed 44 people in Canada. "Support staff didn't figure their jobs were important," says Tom Kirsch, a doctor of emergency medicine and co-director of Johns Hopkins' University's Center for Refugee and Disaster Response, Baltimore. His center has been thinking hard about what he calls the "willingness to respond."

Tom Kirsch is also a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. The American Red Cross recommends taking simple precautions like hand washing to avoid the spread of any type of flu. Here are some tips that we recommend on this matter including prevention, symptoms and how to care for others with the flu and if you have little ones, we have a super cute free anti-germ program for kids 4 to 7 called Scrubby Bear.

Related link
Spike Lee (a different one, not that one)talks how hand washing cleanses your mind