A wedding is one of the happiest days in people’s lives. But at a recent reception, tragedy struck. That's when Dr. Pedro Suarez sprang into action after a fellow guest’s pacemaker failed, causing her heart to stop beating. The local health professional’s medical skills and rapid response saved her life.
Suarez is among local heroes to be honored by the American Red Cross St. Louis Area Chapter during its annual Lifesaver Awards Breakfast from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. May 9 at Hilton St. Louis Frontenac. Red Cross, which works to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors, will recognize heroes in 10 categories, including Youth Good Samaritan Brandon Hargrave, a 9-year-old who saved a classmate from choking on food in the school cafeteria; Adult Good Samaritan Lynn Kannawarf, a local nurse who performed CPR to save a heart attack victim; and 83-year-old Dean Hammann, who has organized every blood drive at his local church—Bonhomme Presbyterian—since 1994, securing 1,900 units of blood and registering 2,000 donors.
As the local Red Cross’ largest annual fundraiser, the Lifesaver Awards Breakfast will help the United Way-affiliated nonprofit continue to provide essential community services, from blood drives and disaster response to emergency preparedness and outreach for the armed forces and displaced families, notes CEO Cindy Erickson. With 2,000 volunteers and 100 staff members now serving 4.2 million people in 72 Missouri and Illinois counties, the local branch has provided assistance to almost 1,500 families after an emergency, including fires, tornadoes, floods and power outages in 2012. The Red Cross team most commonly responds to house fires—an average of three per day. “We are taking care of the family who is standing in the front yard watching their house burn, making sure they have a place to stay that night, as well as food, clothing, shoes, and emotional support, and sometimes that even includes a hug," Erickson says. “Most people haven’t gone through a fire, so we help them formulate a plan for the next 24 to 48 hours.”
Volunteers walked local residents through those critical steps when a massive, five-alarm fire destroyed their apartment building on Lindell Boulevard last year. “We set up a service center, and our volunteers stood outside at the fire all night canteening for firefighters and helping residents deal with the shock and the plan for the next few days,” Erickson recalls. “The kindness and compassion the volunteers showed as they were interacting with the residents was absolutely amazing to watch.”
Red Cross volunteers, who have 40 hours of emergency training, are ready to rescue those in a crisis 24/7, 365 days a year, Erickson notes. The team also responds to large-scale national disasters, such as recent Super Storm Sandy. Seventy volunteers dropped what they were doing and drove or flew to the East Coast to help, Erickson says. “They stop their lives to go and help others, and it’s an honor to work with people who have such a deep humanitarian spirit.”
Additionally in 2012, Red Cross trained some 90,000 people in lifesaving CPR and automated external defibrillators, water safety or babysitting. Staff and volunteers also executed more than 3,000 emergency communications—such as the birth of a child or the death of a loved one—between service members in the field and family at home. And the organization continues to supply almost 50 percent of the nation’s blood—locally collecting more than 200,000 units each year. “We want to inspire others to get involved—give blood, get trained in CPR, donate and volunteer,” Erickson emphasizes. “You never know when you can use lifesaving skills."