Peter Powerhouse Foundation reaches a key milestone in helping children battle cancer

By Alana Mauger

The Red Cross recognized the Peter Powerhouse Foundation for collecting over 10,000 blood donations over the past 7 years. Pictured at a blood drive on July 13, 2022 is the Zucca family (from left) Dawn, Peter and Dennis. Photo by Sandi Yanisko/American Red Cross

This summer, the Peter Powerhouse Foundation reached an extraordinary milestone – more than 100 American Red Cross blood drives hosted and over 10,000 blood donations collected. Driven by its mission to improve the lives of children fighting cancer, the Foundation started hosting blood drives in 2015.

Peter Zucca and his parents Dawn and Dennis are uniquely qualified to operate a foundation that supports kids and families dealing with childhood cancer. Peter was only 10 months old when he was first diagnosed with cancer. After 8 months of surgeries and treatments, he was given a 24% chance of survival. Years of therapies and more than a dozen surgeries later, Peter’s right leg was amputated above the knee because of a Desmoid Tumor. He was 10 years old.  

Peter channeled his fighting spirit and determination into helping address the costs of care, research and treatment needs of other children with cancer. He wanted to help kids like him. The Peter Powerhouse Foundation was born. Two years later the foundation started hosting blood drives – grateful that the 51 units of blood had been available for young Peter when he needed it.

“Peter launched one of the most successful Red Cross blood drive campaigns across the country,” said Rosanne Marks, who recently retired after 40 years as a Red Cross Donor Services account manager. “And now, 7 years later, he marks the unbelievable milestone of sponsoring over 100 blood drives and collecting 10,000 blood donations, which helped up to 30,000 cancer patients, premature babies, accident victims and others with life-threatening illness or trauma.”

In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic essentially shut down blood collection for almost a week, Donor Services managers scrambled to find places willing to host blood drives. The Peter Powerhouse Foundation stepped up once again.

“Just when most other sponsors were cancelling their blood drives, Peter and his mom Dawn volunteered to become an emergency blood drive site. They held blood drives every day for two weeks,” shared Rosanne. “Just in the year 2020, they hosted dozens of blood drives and collected 4,000 blood donations.” 

The drives – held regularly at Towamencin Mennonite Church in Kulpsville – play a major role in supplying blood to patients in the Penn Jersey region. For his efforts, Peter has received numerous Red Cross scholarships through the Leaders Save Lives program and sits on the Red Cross Delaware Valley Chapter Board of Directors, in addition to earning many community accolades.

According to Rosanne, meeting Peter, Dawn and Dennis was a life-changing experience.

“During my 40-year career with the Red Cross, the Zucca family has demonstrated the highest level of commitment, organization and positive influence in their blood drive program. They have impacted thousands of lives and have become the role model for all blood drive sponsors in the Penn-Jersey region and the national American Red Cross,” she said.  “They’ve served our community in a way that has set the standard of excellence. Peter is truly a superstar.”

Today, that “superstar” is a 19-year-old sophomore studying divinity at Lipscomb University. During a July blood drive while Peter was home on summer break, the Red Cross presented the Peter Powerhouse Foundation with a plaque and cake to mark the tremendous milestone of 10,000 donations.

Q & A with ICU nurse and first-time blood donor Jennifer Shaw-Metz

By Sanaya SinhaRoy

Jennifer Shaw-Metz – Submitted photo

Living in a community where medical resources come to us easily, it is easy for us to take advantage of the incredible support, supplies and assistance we get in hospitals. But imagine if all of those resources weren’t available to us anymore. According to the American Red Cross, every two seconds, someone is in need of blood. If blood was not accessible to those patients, they would lose the fight of their life.

Jennifer Shaw-Metz is an ICU nurse and works with variety of different injuries, ranging from illnesses like cancer and infections to traumatic injuries such as car accidents or falls. In her work, she witnesses the lifesaving work of blood donations.

Seeing the amount of blood that goes into saving patient lives, it’s upsetting to think about the prospect of a national blood shortage, like the one we experienced in January. Plus, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause worker shortages and supply chain problems, resulting in ongoing delays and disruptions.

Jennifer wants to remedy the situation, even by a little. Here is what she said about her work as an ICU nurse and her take on donating blood.

Q: As an ICU nurse, how many people do you see weekly in need of blood donation?

A: In a given day, it is likely that at least one patient in our ICU is receiving a blood transfusion. They might be receiving 1 unit of blood product, or they could be receiving a mass transfusion of 20 or 30 or more units of blood products!

Q: What motivated you to donate blood?

A: I was well aware that the pandemic had created delays in healthcare and supply chain struggles in society. When I heard that blood products were also in short supply, I felt a very practical and clear tug on my heart that whispered: “If you have something that others need and you are able to share it, then you should do so,” and so I did.

Q: How did you feel after the first time you donated blood?

A: Physically I was surprised that I felt well- no signs of dizziness. Emotionally I was excited to know that I could be practically helpful in someones time of physical need. I had just learned that the Red Cross App would track my donation through the process, so I was also eager to learn where my blood would be sent.

Q: What do you think would happen if there was a national shortage of blood?

A: As an ICU nurse in the United States, I am aware that patients here have the luxury of available services that many others do not have. In many places in the world and during certain times or circumstances (like the pandemic), a patient may need a ventilator or a blood transfusion and a hospital may not have those to offer. But here in America, I am accustomed to seeing equipment, medications, procedures and blood readily available. The thought of NOT having a ventilator for a patient who needs it to live, or the thought of NOT having blood available when needed was morally distressing to me. A lack of available blood would certainly mean a cancer patient will lose the fight of their life. A lack of available blood would certainly mean that trauma patients will die unnecessarily from their injuries when we could have saved them. I have seen with my own eyes how blood products save or sustain life, and without the availability of blood products, someone’s wife or mother or child or friend or father will lose their life. 

Q: What advice would you give to people who are hesitant to donate blood?

A: I would encourage people to focus on the need of others above the difficulty for oneself. I have been needle-phobic all my life but I felt confident to take this step once I realized that giving a small amount of my day and a one time pinch could equal LIFE and HOPE for someone else, it really became an easy choice.

Q: Is there any additional information you would like to share?

A: For anyone donating for the first time I would encourage you to ask questions.  I asked a lot of questions about the process, and it helped me feel much more comfortable while I was at the donation center. Also, being able to track where my donation went was very meaningful for me- it gave a personal connection for me.

To learn more about the blood donation process or to schedule an appointment to donate blood, visit RedCrossBlood.org.

Profile: Shaun ‘Sturdy’ Griggs advocates for sickle cell awareness

By Kay Bennett

Shaun “Sturdy Griggs” spoke at a Crescent Foundation blood drive held at the Red Cross House last fall. Photo by Alana Mauger

Shaun “Sturdy” Griggs is a passionate advocate for sickle cell awareness. Last fall, Griggs spoke about his experiences at Red Cross House in Philadelphia, where a blood drive was being hosted by the Crescent Foundation, a Philly-based nonprofit serving the sickle cell community.

Griggs has been living with sickle cell disease his entire life. When he was 3 years old, his mother noticed swelling, and he seemed to be in severe pain. After a battery of tests at the hospital, the diagnosis came: type SS sickle cell disease.

“Everyone’s pain is different. Mine was like a heartbeat – if you can picture 100 knives stabbing me in the stomach. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!” he shouted, thrusting his hands toward his abdomen in a stabbing motion.

Such an episode, known as a sickle cell crisis, is one of the major red flags for SCD. A crisis occurs when the sickle-shaped cells cannot flow freely through the bloodstream, causing a blockage. This blockage can lead to severe discomfort and pain, and the repercussions often include decreased flow of oxygen throughout the body and organ tissue damage.

Griggs’s adversities regarding sickle cell disease are often the result of a lack of public knowledge about the condition. Time and again he has found himself explaining the nature of the disease to others, and it was this uphill struggle to increase recognition of the disease that inspired him to become an advocate for Sickle Cell Awareness. He fiercely believes that sickle cell disease should receive more widespread attention.

To illustrate the discrepancy in awareness, Griggs compared sickle cell disease with cancer. Many people, especially health care professionals, are acutely aware of symptoms affecting cancer patients and have a good familiarity with effective treatments. But with sickle cell disease, care teams in hospital settings often need to be educated by their own patients. Patients may have to strongly advocate for themselves, emphasizing the severity of their pain and the lifesaving treatments they need.

Griggs also talked about the feelings of invalidation sickle cell patients may experience. Hospital staff may not fully understand the disease, so they often fail to understand the severity of the associated pain. Griggs tends not to cry in most situations—including health care settings. People should not have to be in tears, he says, to have their pain taken seriously.

“You wouldn’t be able to tell I have [sickle cell disease] by looking at me, but it’s shaped my life,” he said. “The pain is random. It can happen at any time.”

At one point, the lack of sickle cell awareness even threatened Griggs’s life. He was in a juvenile detention facility and began to have a crisis, but the guards and medical staff refused to get him the treatment he needed. As a result of that failure to receive timely medical attention, he walked with a limp for a year and now has permanent swelling in his knee.

Griggs’s frustrations with such health care disparities are what motivates his outspoken advocacy today. When a friend introduced him to Crescent Foundation co-founder Tahirah Austin-Muhammad, the two quickly bonded over their shared experiences with sickle cell disease. Eventually Griggs began speaking at various events held by the foundation. He describes Tahirah as a “great advocate” for sickle cell awareness.

Sickle cell-focused blood drives, like the annual one hosted by the Crescent Foundation, are vital to the sickle cell disease community, Griggs says. “Not a lot of people notice that we [sickle cell patients] actually need blood transfusions,” he said, “and some of us need blood transfusions more often than others. This means a lot just to spread the word.”

Editor’s Note: In commemoration of Black History Month, the American Red Cross is joining organizations across the country to focus on the importance of health and wellness in our Black communities. Throughout February, we’ll be sharing information about our Sickle Cell Initiative, stories from those impacted by sickle disease and ways that community residents can help.

National Blood Donor Month: Pat Woods donates blood in memory of this father

By Alana Mauger

Pat Woods shared this selfie from a recent blood donation. Submitted photo

Pat Woods recalls with great affection his father’s commitment to service. And for Gerard Woods, giving blood was part of that commitment.

As a kid, Pat remembers sitting in the waiting area while his dad donated blood.

“He gave blood 3 to 4 times a year until he went on blood thinners in 2017,” shared Pat. “It wasn’t until he passed away that I found his [blood donation] card from 1979.

While Pat and his three siblings admired their dad’s commitment to donating blood, he acknowledged that none of them really followed in his footsteps.

“I donated once or twice in high school because it got me out of class,” he said. “I knew it was a good thing to do, but it just wasn’t a priority.”

Then, in July 2021, a bone marrow biopsy revealed Gerard’s blood cell counts were low. He received several blood transfusions, later followed by therapeutic apheresis, a process that replaced his plasma.

Gerard passed away in October from what was later revealed to be an undiagnosed form of lupus that causes blood clots. But Pat and his family are grateful for the extra time they had with him, thanks, in part, to blood and plasma transfusions.

Pat Woods recently found his father’s Red Cross Blood Donation card dating back to 1976. Submitted photo

The experience prompted Pat to give blood for the first time in close to 20 years. He shared his donation, along with his dad’s story, on social media and encouraged others to donate.

“A few people who used to donate told me they picked it back up as a result of my posts,” he said.

Pat’s oldest sister, Annie, also recently donated for the first time.

“She was very nervous. The Red Cross staff was wonderful and accommodated her fear of blood. She was able to sit away from other people who were donating so she couldn’t see them,” he said.

Pat and Annie set up Team Gerry Woods on the Red Cross Blood Donor App to encourage others to donate in honor of their dad’s dedication to service.

“We feel fortunate that blood was available to my dad when he needed it,” said Pat. “Now I’m hoping to pay it forward in his honor.”

Donating Blood For the First Time: It was Seamless

By Maria Marabito

Maria Maribito is a Red Cross Communications volunteer. Photo courtesy of Maria Marabito.

I have always wanted to donate blood but kept pushing it off. In all honesty, I am prone to passing out and I was afraid of what donating a pint of blood would do to me. I imagined dropping to the floor at the donation area (how embarrassing) or losing consciousness in the car ride home. However, when I heard about the national emergency blood shortage, I decided now was the time to make the leap.

I downloaded the Red Cross Blood Donation app on my phone and made an appointment closest to me. I chose around lunchtime since I figured I had enough time to get plenty of fluids and food into me by then. The app said to drink plenty of fluids before, eat nutritious foods and ideally take an iron supplement. I followed these instructions to the T for the most part (I kind of forgot about the iron until the two days leading up to my appointment). My blood donation center ended up being just 15 minutes away. I have passed it dozens of times and never knew it was there.

When I arrived, the donation center was quite busy. I checked in on the front desk laptop and waited for my name to be called. About 15 minutes later, I was called back and brought into a private room. The Red Cross worker was very nice and welcoming and reassured me when I told her I was new to donating. She asked me some questions about my health, took my blood pressure and pricked my finger to test my iron levels. Initially, my levels were too low to give blood. However, she said the first time sometimes comes out lower than it actually is and she pricked me again. The second test was high enough to allow me to donate (since then, I have been taking iron supplements daily to keep my levels high).

Once I was deemed healthy enough to donate that day, we went out of the room and around the corner to a bed/table, the kind you find in a doctor’s office. The Red Cross worker prepared the station for me and had me lie down. She wrapped a rubber ribbon around the top of my arm to find a vein. She also gave me some foam to squeeze softly and repeatedly as she inserted the needle into my arm. It pinched, but once in, it was painless. I kept squeezing the foam for the entire duration, which ended up not being that long. I gave a unit of blood within minutes in addition to a few extra vials for testing purposes. I felt a little dizzy after so the worker said to lie down for a little while longer. She was extremely attentive and gave me as much time as I needed. She insisted I have a juice box and something to eat from the many snack options available. I sat for a little while longer but overall felt well and the dizziness went away very quickly. I even went home with a Red Cross t-shirt.

The entire process was seamless and much quicker than I expected. It felt very rewarding to be able to donate my blood to help people who really need it. I plan on donating consistently from now on. And if I had not donated, I would never have known my real blood type. My entire life, I thought I was A+ but turns out I am not!

Jennie Dillon Heneks: Not All Heroes Wear Capes

By Nancy Degnan

Pictured: Jennie Dillion Heneks and her son Des.

Jennie Dillion Heneks’s superpower is giving the gift of life through blood donations.

Jennie was inspired to become a blood donor with the American Red Cross after her son, Des, became ill with Kawasaki disease (KD). He needed an immediate blood treatment, and Jennie gained a new appreciation for blood donors as she watched her 4-year-old son receive the intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) that would help him recover.

Jennie and Des want to create awareness around recognizing the onset of KD, the importance of quick intervention, and the lifesaving value of blood. KD is a rare condition that mainly affects children; it causes swelling in the walls of medium-sized arteries throughout the body. The inflammation tends to affect the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle. When Jennie initially brought her son to the emergency room, Des had a high fever and couldn’t walk due to foot pain and peeling on his toes. These are symptoms noted in the second phase of the disease. (In the third and final phase, signs and symptoms slowly subside.)

The good news is that most kids with KD recover completely, but early action is key. There’s a knowledge gap when it comes to diagnosing KD, and that can result in unnecessary delays. Within the 10-day window of the onset of the condition, parents are important advocates for their kids in dealing with health care providers. Symptoms to watch for: a fever that lasts three to four days, redness in both eyes, a very red and swollen tongue, redness of the palms or soles, skin peeling, a rash, and swollen lymph nodes.

As mentioned, recognizing the early signs—ideally during the first phase—is key. When KD is diagnosed and treated within the first 10 days, there’s a better chance of full recovery without residual problems. The longer the symptoms progress, the higher the likelihood of long-term damage and the need for ongoing treatments.

Pictured: Des Heneks today, living a full life thanks to the blood treatment he received when he was four years old.

Jennie is thankful that the on-call doctor at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was a cardiologist familiar with KD. Thanks to the rapid diagnosis, Des was treated with one IVIG treatment over the course of 36 hours and observed in the ICU for the next seven days to ensure his recovery.

Today, Des is a healthy 13-year-old with a black belt in karate. He is living a full life, thanks to the blood treatment he received at age 4.

Jennie and Des are heroes with heart. Jennie is giving life by giving blood, and with the help of her son, she is creating awareness of the symptoms associated with KD. By helping parents and doctors recognize the early warning signs, she hopes young patients with KD can recover quickly and keep sharing their smiles!

The Rewards of Blood Donation, from a Longtime Donor

By Maria Marabito

June 14, Flag Day, is marked on most Americans’ calendars. But did you know that June 14 is also World Blood Donor Day? This observance, a joint initiative of the World Health Organization and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, was created in 2005 for two reasons: to raise awareness of the global need for blood, and to thank blood donors for their lifesaving gifts.

Blood donation is a selfless, honorable act. Blood can’t be manufactured; it can only come from volunteer donors. This year’s theme is “Give blood and keep the world beating.” In the United States alone, about 6.8 million people donate lifesaving blood. Christina McCarthy is one of them.

McCarthy, a clinical assistant at a pain management office, has been giving blood regularly with the Red Cross for about six years now. Like many blood donors, she was inspired to do her part because of a family connection. Her grandfather, who passed away in 2013, had heart issues that landed him in the hospital on a regular basis. He received many transfusions as part of his care, which motivated McCarthy and her family to start donating themselves.

Photo courtesy of Christina McCarthy

McCarthy’s mother was the first in the family to get the ball rolling. Once Christina began working in the medical field, she realized just how important — and how easy— blood donations are. Her sister and some coworkers have since donated as well. 

“I recruited a couple of coworkers for the last blood drive I went to; two women went with me, and now they’re starting to do it on a semi-regular basis as well,” McCarthy says.

The feel-good rewards are immediate, and you’ll be plenty pleased with yourself. But for an extra shot of satisfaction, you can actually find out where your blood donation went: Just use the Red Cross blood donor app. “I like how the Red Cross  tells you when they’ve processed your blood, and they send you an email telling you where it’s going. I think that’s really helpful,” McCarthy says. “I know my last couple of donations have gone to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, so that makes me feel really good.”

The app not only allows you to schedule your donations but also keeps track of them and lets you know when it’s safe to donate again. “I donate every time my app reminds me, so every 48 days or something like that,” McCarthy says. [Editor’s note: you can donate whole blood every 56 days.]

If you’re nervous, McCarthy insists that the needles aren’t bad at all. (New, sterile needles are used and discarded after one use.) You’ll even be given a free mini-physical at your appointment — temperature, blood pressure, pulse and hemoglobin — to ensure that you’re healthy enough to donate that day. But don’t go on an empty stomach: McCarthy says she passed out the first time, because she didn’t eat enough beforehand. (She recommends a large meal.) That didn’t stop her from going again and turning it into a routine. 

Why give blood? “It is one thing you can do that can literally save someone else’s life, and it’s free for you to do and it takes not even a half hour, so why wouldn’t you do it?” McCarthy says.  [Editor’s note: please allow for 1 hour when you schedule a blood donation appointment.]

In fact, a single donation can potentially save up to three lives.  

And in case you were wondering, the pandemic hasn’t stopped the Red Cross from collecting blood. “They’ve been doing a good job at staggering the appointment times so there aren’t too many people at once. It definitely wouldn’t stop me from donating,” McCarthy says.

There are four blood and platelet donation centers and many blood drive collection sites within the five counties of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Finding a location and time is easy: Just use the Red Cross’s online blood drive finder. You can also use the Red Cross blood donor app to schedule and manage appointments. Depending on the type of donation (whole blood, power red, or platelet), you can donate as often as every 56 days. Today’s your day to save a life… or three!

Primary image description: an illustration, with the American Red Cross logo above the words “World Blood Donor Day” in white letters on a dark blue background. Next to the logo and words is a bright red drop with a water-color rendering of the world inside it.