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"He's My Hero"
A co-worker uses CPR to save alife

It was a typical Monday afternoon in October, and Irene Taylor was preparing for her housekeeping shift at Baltimore's Legg Mason building. Suddenly, Taylor became very ill and fell out of her chair. One of her colleagues saw her on the floor and shouted, "Somebody call 911!" Robert Donald, Director of Security for Colliers Pinkard, heard the cry for help and came running. He found Irene on the floor, unconscious and not breathing. "She had turned blue," Donald recalled in a recent interview.

The retired naval air traffic control chief immediately went into action. Having recently renewed his CPR and first aid certification with the Central Maryland Red Cross, Donald was able to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Taylor for nearly 10 minutes. By the time the paramedics arrived, Taylor had already resumed shallow breathing. Donald rode in the ambulance with Taylor as they rushed to University of Maryland hospital. He stayed with her there until family members arrived and, later, visited her every day at the hospital—talking to her even though she could not respond.

Taylor was diagnosed with pneumonia complicated by a slow heart rate. After weeks of hospitalization in a semi-comatose state, she was not expected to live. Doctors had even advised her family to "get her affairs in order." Incredibly, however, Irene Taylor survived and was eventually released from the hospital. Family members told the Red Cross that hospital personnel called Taylor the "miracle lady."

Because she was unconscious for several weeks, Taylor does not remember all of the events that took place at the hospital. What she does remember is the warm smile, the friendship and the bond that remains between Robert Donald and herself. "Mr. Donald is my hero," Taylor said with a smile.

For more on this story, visit


When disaster strikes, area couple responds
Maryland Gazette, April 24, 2004


When he saw a man digging out his house after a massive Mississippi flood in 1997, Mike Prucnal felt the itch to help this disaster victim. "You see someone flooded out and you want to do more," he said.

After retiring in late 1997 from the Social Security Administration, Mr. Prucnal heard about the American Red Cross Disaster Action Team (DAT) and looked in to it.

After completing several training courses, Mr. Prucnal, 62, and his wife, Mary Ann, 61, became part of the Red Cross DAT team for central Maryland. Now, when the Prucnals receive an emergency call, often in the middle of the night, they grab their gear and head out to a disaster scene. As DAT county coordinator Tom Lehman said, "fires never seem to occur in the afternoon. They're willing to get out of bed and go into the heat and the snow," he said of the Pasadena couple. "They're out to do whatever they can."

The scenes are vivid. Mr. Prucnal said he has watched people fleeing for their lives, leaving no time to put on the proper clothes. "We've seen people come out without shoes in 19-degree weather," he said.

The jobs of the Red Cross volunteers range from providing emergency clothing to helping homeowners fill out paperwork to comforting or counseling those who may have lost everything, including a beloved pet.

"People are distraught, they're not thinking clearly," Mrs. Prucnal said. "We've had several dead dogs. Lots of people want to go back into the structure."

While every disaster has its own sad story, one that sticks with the Prucnals is a pre-Christmas fire that ruined the holiday for a young family. "They had bought a house and remodeled it," Mrs. Prucnal said. "There were two or three little kids and the house was packed full of Christmas presents...Everything in the house was destroyed...The timing was so terrible.".

That incident was just one of many, however, that reinforced the couple's faith in people and in their ability to persevere. "It amazes us how well they seem to take it right off the bat," he said. "I think I would be a wreck, but they're usually very strong."

The Prucnals saw a different type of disaster scene in 2001 when they spent weeks driving the Red Cross emergency response vehicle in the mountains of West Virginia delivering food to flood victims, and in 2002 when they visited Guam to help victims of a typhoon.

The Prucnals, like most Red Cross volunteers, shy away from accolades for their work. "Sometimes I question whether you're doing it for them or doing it for yourself because there is such a feeling of satisfaction," Mr. Prucnal said.

"There are people who are so much more involved," Mr. Prucnal said. Red Cross dispatcher and family service supervisor Phyllis Doyle, however, said there is no doubt the Prucnals are among the organization's most reliable volunteers.

"You can count on two hands how many people are really dedicated," she said. "I've never called them and had them say 'no'."

Farewell to FRIENDS! Thursday May 6th

Join us for one last visit with Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Joey and Phoebe. The Red Cross will be hosting parties in the Baltimore metropolitan area at hotspots including Kelsey's Irish Pub, in Ellicott City, Jillian's at Arundel Mills Mall, and Bill Bateman's Bistro in Towson.

Join us and win! Our raffle prizes and trivia games will all be centered around the cast and favorite storylines!

Come early for Happy Hour specials.
8:00 pm: The Best of Friends, flashbacks on the big screen.
9:00 – 10:00 pm: The Final Episode of FRIENDS on the big screen.

Will Joey head to Hollywood? Will Monica and Chandler start a family? Will flaky Phoebe drive Mike up a wall? What about Rachel and Ross and Gunther????

All proceeds benefit the American Red Cross of Central Maryland Disaster Relief Fund.


Volunteers needed 'every day,' not just in a crisis
By Leroy Levi

I volunteer for several worthwhile organizations, including my church, the U.S. Tennis Association, and the Red Cross. When we see and read about tragic incidents that affect our neighbors, we look deep within ourselves for ways to help others in need. Often, a tragedy places the population into two fluid groups: people who need help and people who want to help. The Red Cross is privileged to serve as a link between the two.

At the Central Maryland Chapter Red Cross, we're celebrating National Volunteer Week April 18-24. It's a time to recognize the work of more than 2,500 volunteers who have made it possible for the Red Cross to assist people who need help.

Disaster relief volunteers respond to an average of three fires a day in the Baltimore metropolitan area. Local citizens donated more than 101,000 pints of blood last year to help save lives.

Every day of the week is a great time to volunteer, not just in times of tragedy. The Central Maryland Chapter is recruiting for a front-desk volunteer and German translators. I think you'll find volunteering for the Red Cross a rewarding experience.

According to Independent Sector (, the estimated dollar value for volunteer time was $17.19 per hour for 2003. As overall needs of our communities grow, there is a greater demand for volunteers from every walk of life.

I encourage others to thank a volunteer and join the group of thousands who give of their time.


Two Women Pay Knowing Tribute to Work of Red Cross

Ruth Vogel had been watching a live broadcast from Iraq, when she saw a truck like her son's explode in an ambush. She did not yet know that her son had been critically injured..

Red Cross helped mother visit critically wounded son; volunteer assisted 400 Isabel victims By Mary Gail Hare, Baltimore Sun Staff

Within 12 hours of the time her son was critically injured in Iraq, the Red Cross had helped fly Ruth Vogel to his bedside at an Army hospital in Germany.

As a devastating tropical storm approached Maryland last fall, Red Cross volunteer Cyndi Walcott prepared a shelter in eastern Baltimore County where she eventually cared for 400 victims of Isabel.

The women, both Westminster residents, [were] among six people relating their stories and paying tribute [as] the international aid organization celebrates Testimonial Day and National Red Cross Month at the Red Cross headquarters on Mount Hope Drive in Northwest Baltimore.

""We hope to highlight the work and raise awareness of the Red Cross," said Ruth L. Tyler, public relations associate with the organization. "People know that we are responsible for helping during disasters and organizing blood drives, but we do much more."

For several years, Walcott, 35, volunteered at several blood drives. But she wanted to expand her volunteer hours.

For more than a year, she has become accustomed to midnight phone calls or a beeping pager asking for her help in responding to disasters. She coordinated Red Cross efforts at more than 40 fires last year in Carroll and Baltimore counties and in Baltimore City.

"The Red Cross makes sure families are OK and that all their needs are taken care of so they can get back on their feet," Walcott said. "This is the most rewarding thing I have ever done."

She had some time to prepare for Isabel, the storm that destroyed many homes in the region. The day before the storm hit, Red Cross officials asked Walcott to run a small shelter at Stemmers Run Middle School in eastern Baltimore County.

"I knew where the school was so I said OK," she said. "We only had about 18 people in the beginning."

That all changed in the middle of the night when emergency crews brought busloads of storm victims to the school. Walcott helped make about 400 people "as comfortable as possible" throughout the stormy night and the next day. And, she would do it again, she said of her 30-hour stint.

"I would love to do this full time and go on national calls," said Walcott, a customer service supervisor for a consulting company in Carroll County.

Vogel found out what the Red Cross can do to help a family in crisis on July 22, 2003.

At 8 a.m. that day, she received a call from Iraq where her 22-year-old son, Sgt. Brandon Erickson, was serving with his National Guard unit. She learned that he had been injured in an ambush and airlifted to a surgical unit, but further information on the severity of his injuries was not available.

Vogel, who works for the Baltimore City Health Department, spent the next few hours frantically making calls to anyone who might be able to help her get more information on her son. It was her husband, Craig, who suggested the Red Cross.

"I work on the city's response to bioterrorism, but I freaked out," she said. "The Red Cross got us basic contact information and gave us really common-sense things to do that you don't think of in the mind-set we were in."

About four hours after that initial call, Vogel heard from her son. He called from a mobile phone in Iraq. Groggy from surgery, he told her he had lost his right arm and had a lot of cuts. She later learned that his truck had hit a land mine and that he had been struck by a rocket-propelled grenade.

"All I heard was 'they are saying I am fine' and then, the phone cut off," Vogel said. "I couldn't get him back."

The Red Cross and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski's office helped arrange immediate travel for Vogel. After landing in Germany, Vogel said, the Red Cross met her with "a bag of stuff I might need" and then "they helped me find my son. I really needed to be there for him."

"We were back in the States three days later and once again, the Red Cross was there for us with everything from phone cards and food to [hotel] accommodations," she said. "They were a huge part of the picture during this traumatic time in our lives."

Erickson spent nearly five months recuperating at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He wears a prosthesis and is coping with partial hearing loss but is doing well, his mother said.

"He is not focusing on what happened to him, but rather on how to handle it," she said.

Erickson has returned to classes at the University of North Dakota, hoping to graduate next year.

In the past few months, he has spoken about his experiences in Iraq to several school groups, including at Westminster High.

Vogel has also spoken frequently of the experience, and today she will recount how much the Red Cross has helped her family.

Copyright (c) 2004, The Baltimore Sun

Link to the article:,0,2983939.story?coll=bal-local-carroll

Workmates Become Heroes

By David Bruce
[email protected]

A team of Steris corp workers used a portable defibrilator to save a co-worker's life Nov 4. The team includes, from left, Joe Maxwell, Lee-Ann Czytuck, Dan Jones, Rich Stebell, Bob Straub and Mervin Small, Jr.
Pete Adams was a lucky man the day his heart stopped beating.

Adams was holding a morning meeting with co-workers at Steris Corp., Nov. 4 when the 38-year-old engineer muttered a couple of words and slumped to the floor.

"Had Pete been alone in the bathroom or driving to work, he probably would have died," said Jack Smith, M.D., a Saint Vincent Health Center cardiologist who treated Adams. "When you suffer cardiac arrest, you have a few minutes to get treatment or else you're gone."

About 250,000 Americans die each year from cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood. The only treatment is to shock the heart back into a regular beat with defibrillators, but each minute spent waiting for paramedics reduces the chance of survival by 10 percent.

Adams didn't have to wait for paramedics. Six co-workers armed with a portable defibrillator rushed to his side within 45 seconds.

"We got an alert over our (two-way) radios that someone had fainted," said Rich Stebell, chief of Steris' 12-member emergency-response team. "I grabbed [the] equipment and headed to the VHP lab where Pete was."

"His skin was blue, and I couldn't find a pulse," said Stebell, who operates welding robots. "I knew he was in cardiac arrest."

By that time, Lee-Ann Czytuck was grinding her knuckles into the middle of Adams' chest. He didn't respond to the painful rubbing, which is done to check a person's level of unconsciousness.

"I thought, 'We really have a problem,' " said Czytuck, an administrative assistant.

Stebell tilted Adams' head back and discovered he wasn't breathing.

Dan Jones and Mervin Small Jr. lifted Adams' shirt and took turns compressing his chest, trying to help his heart pump blood. Neither man had performed CPR on an actual person before.

"It felt just like when I trained on a mannequin," said Jones, an assembler.

As Jones pressed on Adams' chest, utility man Bob Straub opened the automated external defibrillator and tossed the device's covered gel pads to Joe Maxwell.

Maxwell tore open the pads and stuck them on Adams' chest, just above and below his heart. The defibrillator analyzed Adams' heart rhythm and automatically determined that it needed an electrical jolt.

A recent study showed that AEDs that are placed in public places — with trained people to use them — can double the survival chances for cardiac arrest victims.

"We got the AED about three years ago," Stebell said. "We figured that we would use it one day, but not on somebody 38 years old."

The team moved slightly away from Adams, and Small pushed the defibrillator's lighted button to shock Adams' heart.

"I had never even seen an AED used before," said Small, a punch-press operator. "I hit the button and saw Pete shake and bounce. You knew something had happened."

"His whole body lifted off the floor," Czytuck added.

Adams' heart still wasn't beating regularly. Jones and Small continued compressing his chest as the team waited for the defibrillator to provide a second shock.

"After the first shock didn't work, the general consensus among us was, 'Now what?' " Jones said.

The defibrillator again determined that Adams needed a shock. The team moved back, and Small again pressed the lighted button.

After the second shock, Adams took a long, ragged breath — the first sound he made after hitting the floor four minutes earlier.

"Once Pete took that breath, we all started yelling at him, calling for him to respond," Small said.

Stebell pressed his fingers against Adams' throat and felt a steady pulse. Though still unconscious, Adams began to breathe on his own.

EmergyCare paramedics arrived outside the lab — there was no room for them inside — and began setting up their own lifesaving equipment.

"One of the paramedics said, 'You guys already did all of the hard work,' " Small said.

Stebell traveled with the ambulance to Saint Vincent. He returned to Steris later in the day and told the team that Adams' vital signs were strong, and he was doing fine.

"That's when it hit me, that Pete was going to be OK," Jones said. "I really felt elated — not for what we did, but for Pete."

After the shock of the events wore off, Stebell told his team how he felt about the job they did.

"I was so proud of the way they performed, especially since they had never worked on a real person before," Stebell said.

Doctors could not determine what caused Adams' heart to stop beating. His coronary arteries were clean, and the electrical pathways around his heart appeared normal.

Surgeons implanted a small defibrillator in Adams' chest to provide a jolt if he ever again went into cardiac arrest.

Each of the team members returned to their regular jobs and worked the rest of their shift that day. Drained and exhausted, Czytuck went home in the evening, where her mother asked how her day went.

"I stood there and told her that we saved someone's life today," Czytuck said. "She said, 'That's amazing.' "

"Yeah, it was amazing," Czytuck added.

Learn to use an AED through the Red Cross training. You can sign up today online.

Joy for a Holocaust survivor: Reunion with sister caps news of survival

By Claudia Rowe, SPI Reporter

For nearly 60 years, people had been telling George Gordon that his entire family perished during the Holocaust.

One friend said he'd seen their home blown to bits. The German Red Cross agreed: There was no trace at all. Gordon, 14 when he was sent to a forced labor camp, finally immigrated to the United States in 1951, believing himself the sole survivor.

But uncertainty picked at him. And there were dreams.

"I'd see my mother and sister in my sleep and wake up thinking, 'No, I can't believe they are dead,' " the 77-year-old Seattle resident said last week. "It stays with you, if you don't know for sure. You can't let it go."

He tried, though. Gordon, born Jerzy Budzynski, found work at the Bar-S meatpacking plant in Seattle, married, had children and fit himself into American life. The walls of his basement study are lined with certificates from the Republican Party and the National Rifle Association, several United States seals and one enormous American flag.

Sometimes he told friends his story -- how he'd fought Nazis as a teenager during the Warsaw uprising, the day his father and younger brother were shot dead by SS soldiers, though they were not Jewish; the long trip on a boxcar to Stuthoff, a Polish-only work camp, and then to infamous Buchenwald, where Gordon spent the rest of the war. He didn't know what happened to his mother and sister. He never expected to find out.

Fast-forward to the 2002 Jewish Film Festival in Seattle.

Tammy Kaiser, a graduate student in Jewish studies, was watching a documentary about two men who'd returned to Poland in search of lost family. Afterward, a Red Cross worker stood up. Valerie Gow spoke about the agency's Holocaust and War Victims Tracing Service, a team of researchers who spend their days digging through piles of records, tracking the fates of those lost during World War II.

Since 1990, when the free service was established to handle millions of war records released after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, some 40,000 cases have been initiated by Americans.

Kaiser was fascinated. Some of her own family had been lost during the war and she was already a volunteer with the Red Cross on a school violence project. She introduced herself to Gow, and within a month was handling every Holocaust tracing case initiated in King and Kitsap counties.

On any day, there may be 35 files on her desk. At first, Gordon's looked like all the rest. But something about it gripped Kaiser.

Two friends of his had applied for the trace on his behalf, in the hope of helping Gordon collect reparations from the German government. The survivor himself had included a long letter, describing his family memories, his old village.

Kaiser began by contacting the tracing center, based in Baltimore, which forwarded her request to the agency's International Tracing Service in Arrolsen, Germany.

From there, the Polish Red Cross got involved, and Kaiser, on her own trip to Poland with a Jewish student group, made a special detour to Gordon's former hometown, Wroclaw, searching for his family graves. There was nothing.

After 18 months, Polish researchers finally discovered a simple newspaper obituary. It described Gordon's mother, Janina. It was dated 1979, and it mentioned only one survivor, a daughter, Krystyna.

"I couldn't believe it when I heard," said Kaiser. Even now, the ebullient 30-year-old struggles to describe that moment. "There are just no words," she said, shaking her head. "I cried for like 10 minutes. Then we called George."

Gordon, who has seen men burned in crematoria, been shot and tortured, recounts war horrors matter-of-factly. Only when speaking of the night he heard his sister's voice for the first time in 59 years does his voice waver.

"Krystyna, this is Jerik," he said, using his childhood nickname over the telephone to Poland.

There was a long silence. Neither knew quite what to say.

"These two women walked in, my sister and her daughter," Gordon said, gazing at the diary he kept during his year at Buchenwald. "I wouldn't have recognized her if we'd passed each other on the street -- to me she was always a 12-year-old girl -- but when I heard her voice, I knew it was her."

George Gordon with his sister Krystyna Budzynski after they were reunited in Poland. Krystyna is holding an American Red Cross medallion.

For Kaiser, the discovery of Gordon's sister will be a lifetime memory. Most of her work tracing victims focuses on the dead.

"A lot of times, all I can do is come up with a transport number for the trip to Auschwitz," she said. "I called a woman the other day and said, 'I know the train your whole family was taken on.' You'd think this would be a terrible conversation, but it was really a cause for celebration. Now she can mourn. She can say, 'Now I know when they died. I can light a candle.' "


Anyone can initiate a search for family members who may have been lost during wars and the Holocaust. The service is free. If you would like to support this Red Cross program, please make your donation online today.

For more information, call 410-764-5311.


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