Red Cross salutes nurses, ‘angels’ of its mercy mission

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross volunteer

Nurses are vital to delivering the lifesaving services of the American Red Cross – an organization founded by Clara Barton, whose own nursing during the Civil War earned her the title “Angel of the Battlefield.”

“Nurses fill so many roles in the Red Cross. We couldn’t function without them,” said Barb Thomas, recovery manager for the Red Cross Northern Ohio Region.

Nationwide, more than 20,000 Red Cross nurses – both paid and volunteer – do everything from caring for disaster victims to working in military hospitals to collecting lifesaving blood. They teach CPR/first aid and disaster preparedness, and even serve in the management and governance of the Red Cross itself.

“Nurses are integral to what we do at the Red Cross, so we try to keep them engaged and be sure they know how much we appreciate them,” Barb said. “We don’t just salute them during National Nurses Week (starting today), but all year long.”

Barb introduced me to two of the dozens of nurses in northern Ohio who apply their time and skills to those who need them, near and far.

Phyllis Esposito of Massillon, Ohio, is enthusiastic about her role in Red Cross disaster health services.

Phyllis Esposito, Red Cross volunteer, with Tim Reichel, Disaster Program Manager, Heartland, Stark and Muskingum Lakes Chapter

“I can honestly say, I talk up the Red Cross every time I can,” she said. “It’s such a rewarding thing. My only regret is, why didn’t I do this 10 years earlier?”

After more than 50 years as an emergency room nurse, Phyllis understands how stressed people can be in the wake of an emergency. She knows how to help calm them, assess their health-related needs and – most importantly – fill those needs.

That can range from getting glasses, dentures or refills for medications lost in a fire evacuation to replacing a child’s aerosol machine or a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine destroyed by a tornado or flood.

Early in her Red Cross “career,” Phyllis was glad to travel to disaster sites, to look after the medical needs of home fire victims, shelter residents or even Red Cross volunteers. But she said as she’s gotten older, she’s glad to be able to serve virtually, reaching out by phone all the way to victims of a hurricane in Louisiana, for example.

This kind of long-distance service is a vital and efficient way for the Red Cross to help local disaster survivors or even a whole community where medical resources are overwhelmed.

“Phyllis is a disaster health service star,” Barb said. “She’s eager to learn as we evolve our ways of helping people, especially as we adjusted to COVID. And her personality just lets people know, there’s light at the end of this dark tunnel they’re in, after a disaster.”

Jennifer Dremann of Deerfield, Ohio, has a special rapport with those who’ve experienced tragedy in the course of a disaster.

Jennifer Dremann, Red Cross volunteer

“I lost my brother in a house fire in 1996; he was 19 years old” when he succumbed to smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide, she said. “He’s why I became a nurse.”

When Jennifer heard about what the Red Cross does, particularly for home fire victims, she knew this was a fit for her. “I’ve lived it; I’ve lost somebody. I’ve done several cases where somebody has passed. It’s got to be the absolute worst nightmare, especially when a child has perished.”

She’s also moved by cases involving an elderly adult who doesn’t have family or social support nearby.

Like Phyllis, she works with folks by phone, day or night, finding out what their disaster-related medical needs are and helping them replace prescriptions and/or medical equipment, navigating insurance and then dipping into Red Cross funds if necessary.

But perhaps the most important help she can give is to listen, not just to survivors’ physical needs but to their emotional wounds. “People are like, ‘You volunteer to do this?’ she said. “I don’t think most people realize what the Red Cross does, and how rewarding it is.”

The Red Cross is proud to have tens of thousands of skilled, compassionate nurses like Phyllis and Jennifer on the team, ready across the country and around the clock to help people prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters.

To learn more about the many services of the Red Cross and how you can be involved as a volunteer, financial supporter or blood donor, go to redcross.org.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

Reflecting on Las Vegas one year later

NEO staffer looks back on emotional assignment

By Renee Palagyi, Senior Regional Disaster Program Manager

One year ago, headlines told of the “worst mass shooting in modern American history.” More than 500 people were wounded and 59 were killed when a lone gunman rained a barrage of bullets on the 22,000 people attending the Route 91 Country Music Festival. Many hundreds were also injured  as they ran for cover, suffering broken bones, crushing injuries as others fell on top of them, scrapes and bruises as they jammed into small spaces, torn muscles and tendons as they lifted others over fences, raw hands and feet as they crawled through broken glass and debris on the field.

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Renee Palagyi

Two days later, I flew to Las Vegas where I was assigned to lead health services for the American Red Cross in the Family Assistance Center at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Over the next 19 days, the teams assisted more than 4,400 people at the center with everything from replacing a lost driver’s license to wrapping an ankle with an elastic bandage, taking information to find a lost pair of glasses to facilitating a referral to an orthopedic surgeon.

  • Most people have no idea that the Red Cross is present and assisting in these tragedies but we are there, from Sandy Hook to Pulse nightclub, from the Boston Marathon to Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
  • Red Cross engages volunteers, including licensed medical and mental health professionals who are specially trained in mass casualty. Our organization is highly regarded as “the authority” on managing the aftermath.
  • Assisting the survivors of mass casualty and the families of the deceased is not only the hardest work we do—mentally and physically exhausting—it is the most rewarding.

I worked with a young man who was in severe pain from a bullet lodged against a nerve in his elbow. He did not want to return to California for surgery until the coroner released his father’s body so that they could “go home together just the way we came here together.”

I met a young couple who were badly bruised and scraped from crawling along the ground to escape bullets coming from what seemed like every direction. They were wearing Cleveland Indians ball caps and we talked about our mutual love of the team. They told me they had run to apartments near the field and began pounding on every door hoping someone would offer shelter. Ultimately, a door opened and there stood a man wearing Yankees apparel. The young woman laughed and said, “We figured it was better than nothing!”

A young father of two toddlers had been to the center the previous day and received assistance for his wife who was hospitalized. He returned, as many did, and sat at a table in the open area drinking a cup of coffee. I walked over to see if there was anything he needed and he looked up with tears in his eyes as he reached for my hand. As I sat down, he told me the doctors had run tests that morning and determined his wife had no brain wave activity. In his words, “I hoped someone here could tell me what to tell the girls.” One of our incredible mental health volunteers was with him for most of the day and made arrangements to go with a casework volunteer back to the home to be with him during that painful discussion.

I have dozens of stories of the people we met and helped in that short time. I think of many of those people now and marvel at their strength and their willingness to allow us to comfort them. I think, too, of how our team grew stronger each day and found the moments that were the hardest brought us closer together. How, at the end of 12 or more hours of hearing the most painful stories and looking into those still-frightened faces, we found friendship within our team and were able to continue our work.

The Red Cross Family Assistance Center closed the doors on a Friday night and the community-supported Vegas Strong Resiliency Center opened the next morning. Like other centers that have opened post-tragedy, it will probably be open as place of comfort and support for the next three to five years.

I was among the last five staff members to leave the center that Friday night. I flew back to Cleveland on Saturday where my husband met me at the airport and we went immediately to our daughter’s home as she hosted a neighborhood chili cook-off. After being immersed in grief for so many days, seeing a group of happy people, getting hugs from my grandchildren and other family members seemed surreal. I realized that I was beginning to heal as I had helped others begin to heal.

If you are interested in volunteering with the Red Cross to help victims after an emergency, you can apply here.  See and hear Renee tell her story in this video.