Local boy, 10, struggles with sickle cell disease; Family encourages blood donations to help

Jah’Sear Lusk, 10, is a sickle cell anemia patient in the Sacramento area. His family encourages people to donate blood at redcrossblood.org to see if they have antigens that can be used to treat the disease.

Editor’s note: September was Sickle Cell Awareness Month, a time when the American Red Cross emphasizes the importance of a diverse blood supply to help meet the needs of those with sickle cell disease – the most common inherited blood disorder in the U.S. Since the California Gold Country Region’s social media space has been so focused on the wildfires that have ravaged much of Northern California, we chose to wait until now to share Jah’Sear Lusk’s story to give it the attention it deserves.

By Robin Blomster, Volunteer

Sickle cell anemia is an insidious disease. It sneaks around in deformed blood cells, painfully blocking oxygen, creating clots and affecting the body’s ability to fight infections. And it’s not satisfied with a physical toll – it wreaks havoc on the mental health of a patient and their community, too.

The American Red Cross is bringing awareness to the disease and the ongoing need for research, blood donations and work toward a cure. Sickle cell anemia affects approximately 100,000 individuals in the United States, one of whom is Jah’Sear Lusk, 10.

Jah’Sear was born with sickle cell anemia (SCA), and the physical and mental challenges have shaped his life and the lives of his Northern California family for nearly a decade. 

“From ages 1 to 3, he was always sick,” said Jah’Sear’s mom, Andrea Lusk. She kept a “go bag” in the car because of the frequency with which she was visiting doctors.

“When you’re immune compromised, you catch viruses and infections easily. And SCA patients (are kept for) 72 hours … to run tests, take labs, and make sure … antibiotics are working. Every month and a half I was (in the hospital).”  

The most serious complication of Jah’Sear’s illness hit him when he was just 3 years old. 

“He had a bad virus. His fever never broke,” Andrea said. “His body became very inflamed, and then he had a massive ischemic stroke when he was 3, in 2016.”

Because he was 3, he’s had remarkable “get back,” how Andrea terms his recovery. He had to learn how to walk, talk and eat again. He was left with physical disability, mental/cognitive disability and vision impairment, and he’s a fall risk. 

“He’s struggling. I’m getting him all the help he can get. It’s a struggle for him and he has a lot of self awareness (at this age). He asks, ‘Why did God let this happen to me?’ It was the hardest thing to answer. I knew it was coming. I ask God to give me the words to say to him to continue to build his confidence.”

Andrea has made it her life’s work to advocate for her son. She says she’s grateful to have her “village,” which includes her husband, William; her mom, Linda Castro; and her aunt, Patricia Franklin, who is a retired UC Davis registered nurse. But even so, it’s not easy. 

When you donate, blood is tested for specific antigens that are needed to treat sickle cell disease. If your blood contains those characteristics, the Red Cross will let you know so you can help sickle cell patients by donating whole blood, plasma or platelets. 

“We both work, we’re both self employed, which is amazing because at any given minute I have to drop everything to go be there with him. My husband doesn’t get to go to work, I don’t get to go to work (when Jah’Sear needs support),” Andrea said. “There are mental health ramifications for everyone involved. I can’t imagine other families and what they’re going through when I already know what I’m going through.” 

Jah’Sear’s ongoing treatment is blood exchanges every five weeks, which are done through an apheresis machine. Many patients get transfusions, Andrea said, but she advocated for Jah’Sear to have apheresis because it pulls out a portion of the patient’s blood while giving them new blood. 

“It’s like an oil change,” she said. 

While there are promising treatments on the horizon, like DNA editing, for now because of Jah’Sear’s medical conditions he relies on blood.

“It’s life threatening. People with sickle cell wouldn’t be able to survive without blood donors. And we greatly appreciate it.”

Sickle cell is the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States and affects individuals of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. The majority are of African descent, and blood from donors of the same race or similar ethnicity is important in ensuring the best results, with the least potential reaction.

When you donate, blood is tested for specific antigens that are needed to treat sickle cell disease. If your blood contains those characteristics, the Red Cross will let you know so you can help sickle cell patients by donating whole blood, plasma or platelets. 

Call us at 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800­-733-2767) or download the free Blood Donor App for more information or to schedule a blood donation appointment.

‘It’s all about perspective’

By Michelle Hogue, Volunteer

Bob Dunham and Patty Girdner evacuated from Yreka and got acquainted through their stay at the Red Cross shelter in Weed.  Neither had been in a situation of needing to shelter away from home previously, so they had no idea what to expect when they got there.

Bob and Patty both said they have been “blessed and amazed” by the care they have gotten from the Red Cross volunteers. 

Bob, who has lived in Siskiyou County for 44 years, was not in an area of town that was under a mandatory evacuation, but the unpredictability of the situation and his health concerns affected by the smoke brought him to the shelter.

While he was at the shelter, Bob’s dog, Scooter, was being cared for at the Rescue Ranch dog shelter. His growing up as a military dependent and going through earthquake drills when he was a kid in Japan and Hawaii taught him to be prepared always to “go on a moment’s notice.”

Patty was in a similar situation as Bob.  She said she would love to be a volunteer when she gets back on her feet, health-wise.  Patty said she is very grateful for the support she has received at the Red Cross shelter.

“I’ve never seen the over-abundance of giving like this. I want to volunteer and give back.” 

Both Patty and Bob repeatedly expressed how much they appreciated having the shelter available. Both could often be seen trying to help out in some way around the shelter.

Bob said, “I’m happy for what little I’ve been able to do around the shelter.”

“We’re all in the same boat.  Everybody has come together,” said Patty. “We are all helping each other.”

As Bob and Patty talk about their evacuation experiences, they remain hopeful and eager to get back to their homes. They both noted, “It’s all about perspective,” that “choosing to live in Siskiyou County means choosing to live with the possibility of wildfire.”

Bob said, “Everyone encounters disasters. Each area has its own kind of potential disaster. How you get through it is with the relief from the Red Cross and other organizations – the people showing up just to make donations was unbelievable.  To be hands on with the Red Cross…you guys are wonderful. 

“It’s the heart and empathy that makes people want to be Red Cross volunteers and do the amazing things you’re doing here.”

You can support Red Cross disaster relief efforts by making a financial donation at redcross.org/donate.

First-time Disaster Volunteer Awarded Red Cross Challenge Coin for Exemplary Service

Diedre Cazneaux took it upon herself to run the kitchen at the Red Cross shelter in Siskiyou County.

By Judith Lester, Volunteer

Deidra Cazneaux’s deployment with the California Gold Country Region of the American Red Cross to the McKinney Fire was her first, but it wasn’t obvious.

The McKinney Fire in Siskiyou County displaced some 2,000 residents in late July. That’s when Cazneaux looked straight into the face of the disaster and went right to work.

“I just walked into the shelter kitchen and took over,” she said.

In her days at the shelter, Cazneaux always did her job with a smile, chatting with each evacuee and even advocating for them to ensure partner agencies who provided meals were offering nutritious options.

Shelter manager Bill Hart described Cazneaux, saying, “Deidra is an incredibly positive force in the face of controlled chaos.”

In recognition of her work at the shelter and her positive attitude while on the job, Cazneaux was presented with a Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services challenge coin.

“It’s always been in my heart to serve people,” Cazeneaux said, adding: “It’s an avenue for me to be who God wants me to be.”

Visit redcross.org/volunteer to explore the many opportunities to serve as a Red Cross volunteer.

McKinney Fire Evacuee Pledges to Volunteer for the Red Cross After Her Shelter Experience

Harlene Schwander lost her home in the McKinney Fire and regularly expressed her gratitude for the help she’s received since she evacuated.

By Judith Lester, Volunteer

Harlene Schwander hadn’t driven in years. But she drove herself to the American Red Cross Shelter at the Weed Community Center when her home was destroyed in Siskiyou County’s McKinney Fire.

Schwander was not shy about expressing her appreciation for people who gave her clothing, comfort and care while she was at our shelter.

She told her life story and the circumstances of her evacuation to several news reporters who visited the Weed shelter.

Schwander said she’s planning to volunteer for the American Red Cross after this experience.

“I am amazed at how much you help people mentally and physically— you just buoy people!”

“I am overwhelmed by your kindness,” Schwander said, adding that is why she is planning to join the Red Cross team.

The Red Cross always needs volunteers! Join us by visiting redcross.org/volunteer.

Red Cross Turns Compassion Into Action During McKinney Fire

By Judith Lester, Volunteer

The American Red Cross is busy 365 days a year, 24 hours a day turning compassion into action.

When Siskiyou County’s McKinney Fire broke out, the Red Cross was called upon to open an evacuation shelter in Yreka. Within just a few hours, the doors were open.

Once evacuation orders were issued in Yreka, the Red Cross relocated the shelter to the Weed Community Center.

Barbara Leper and her husband are guests at the Red Cross shelter in Weed.

Barbara Leper, 78, and her husband are at the shelter in Weed because they are once again under the threat of losing everything all over again. “Last year we had to run for our lives when our home in Happy Camp burned to the ground in just a few minutes,” Leper said.

The Lepers have lived in beautiful Siskiyou County for nearly 30 years. Regardless of the continuum of wildfires, they are planning to stay put in the Weed community. “We just love it here, it’s our home,” Leper said.

The Red Cross was there for the Lepers last year. Leper shared how the Red Cross helped them along with temporary housing and the essential items they needed.

“The Red Cross kept helping us along the way,” Leper said. “We received another $500 gift certificate in December for food and gas.”

Consider supporting Red Cross disaster relief efforts by visiting redcross.org/donate.

Stronger Together: Thanks for the great meals, Salvation Army

Strong relationships with community partners are pivotal in caring for those who need assistance during a disaster. Volunteers from the Salvation Army in Redding have been serving up great meals to dozens of McKinney Fire evacuees. Pictured are Joy Wegner (top left), Teri Lewis (top right), Dorinda Cox (bottom left), and Steven Brooks (bottom right).

Electra Fire: Up Next… Distribution of Emergency Supplies

Red Cross volunteers are getting ready to distribute emergency supplies to Electra Fire evacuees in Amador and Calaveras counties.

In the coming days, county officials will choose locations for those impacted by the fire to stop by and pick up items such as garbage bags, tarps, gloves and cleaning supplies.

The Red Cross is able to provide this service thanks to the generosity of donors. If you would like to support our disaster relief efforts, visit redcross.org/donate.

Thank you, Cowabunga!

A big thank you to Cowabunga Ice Cream Truck out of Valley Springs for delivering some frozen sweet treats to our shelter in San Andreas this week.

During a wildfire, when our shelter guests have lost so much, something as simple as ice cream can sure boost their spirits!

Cowabunga’s owners posted on Facebook: “A great night visiting evacuees and volunteers in San Andreas. Next stop Amador! Passing out free ice cream for those who have been displaced and those that need a smile on their faces. Fun night.”

Thank you for caring, Cowabunga!

For information on how you can support the American Red Cross during times of disaster, visit redcross.org/donate.

Northern California Volunteer Shahadat Hossain Khan Balances Graduate School and Volunteering

Shahadat Hossain Khan is currently attending school to obtain his Master’s Degree in Computer Science.

He and his family are also business owners in Chico.

With his busy schedule as a student, business owner and father, Khan still finds the time to be a volunteer for the Red Cross.

We would like to welcome him as the newest Disaster Action Team Service Associate in the Lower Northern California Territory.

We would also like to express our thanks and appreciation for his service as a volunteer.

Thank you!

Congratulations to Deborah Harper – Recipient of the Ann Magunsen Nursing Award

 

Red Cross Nurse Deborah Harper

California Gold Country Region volunteer Deborah Harper has been awarded the 2021 American Red Cross Ann Magunsen Nursing Award.

 This award is presented annually to a volunteer or employed registered nurse who has made an outstanding contribution to strengthening or improving American Red Cross programs and services. It is the highest honor of individual nursing achievement in the American Red Cross.

“We value your work as the Nursing Network Regional Nurse Lead and your many Disaster Cycle Services volunteer positions. Your humanitarian spirit is reflected in your outstanding leadership, dedication and accomplishments,” noted National Nursing Committee Awards Chairperson Laurie Willshire.

In presenting the award, Red Cross Chief Nurse Linda McIntyre said, “Your humanitarian service has a far-reaching impact and I’m grateful that you share your time and expertise with the Red Cross.”

As expected, Deborah has received an outpouring of praise from our staff and volunteers. In an email she said, “I appreciate everyone who has taken the time to send congrats. It means a lot. I’m so fortunate to be a part not one but two amazing regions!!!”