In Service to Each Other

By Jonathan Sandstrom, American Red Cross

During April, the Red Cross celebrates National Volunteer Week, but because we love our volunteers so much, we celebrate all month long! To celebrate volunteer month in the Connecticut and Rhode Island Region, we’d like to share the story of one of our local volunteers, Ezequiel “Memo” Alejandro. Memo deployed during the 2017 hurricane season to help those impacted by the storm. Little did he know, he would be the one helped by other Red Cross volunteers.

Memo_USVI
Memo Alejandro upon arrival in St. Croix in the fall of 2017.

Memo Alejandro has been volunteering with the American Red Cross for 42 years and is a volunteer in the Connecticut and Rhode Island Region. Last fall, he was part of the team deployed to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to help residents of the island along with evacuees from St. Thomas and St. John cope with the devastation from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Heading into his deployment, Memo knew the job of shelter manager would be a tough one, but having deployed so many times to help those in need, he wanted to serve where needed. “One of the things I’ve learned with the Red Cross is you have to be flexible. I will do whatever needs to be done, no matter what. So, I took the evening shift since I figured most of the people would be sleeping and it wouldn’t be as hard as the day shift.”

During the beginning of his deployment, Memo spent his nights as shelter manager and his days with the rest of the night crew volunteering to help local volunteers at their

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During the day, the night shelter crew helped local Red Crossers at their homes.

homes to clean up from the storms.One night after his shift, he filled the day crew in on what had happened during the night as he normally did and then went to bed. Usually, he only slept for a few hours.

This particular night, however, he only managed about 20 minutes of rest before he noticed something was wrong. He felt tightness in his chest and a burning sensation on his left arm. He went to the nurse on duty and told her his symptoms. Luckily, she works in the cardiac unit at the local hospital. She asked if he had his nitroglycerin tablets and checked his blood pressure. She had him take a nitro pill and about 15 minutes later the pain was almost gone.

However, as time went on, Memo knew things were still not right. “The nurse asked me ‘Do you want me to call an ambulance?’” Memo said. “and I said ‘No, I’ll walk out of here, I don’t want to go feet first.’”

From there he was taken to the local St. Croix hospital, but the hurricanes had badly damaged the building. Due to the severity of his condition, Memo needed to be air-lifted back to the mainland. He wound up in Mississippi.

Memo was taken to St. Dominic Hospital near Jackson, Mississippi, one of the top three hospitals in the nation for cardio-vascular cases. There he received exceptional care to help him recover. However, Memo was still thousands of miles away from his home in Connecticut and his family. But really he wasn’t, his Red Cross family was there.  “Somehow, the Red Cross office in Jackson, Mississippi found out a volunteer had been taken to the cardiac unit,” Memo recalled. “The next morning, a representative was in my room. He came with a bag of goodies. It was incredible how they took care of me.”

Back in Connecticut, the Red Cross also swung into action. They flew his wife to Mississippi, got her set up with lodging and transportation.

After his discharge, Memo told his wife the first place they needed to go before heading home was to the local Red Cross office in Mississippi. He wanted to thank the people there for everything they had done to make his transition as smooth as possible. “I’m really appreciative and thankful for what the Red Cross has done in my life and with my family, too,” Memo said.

If you are interested in joining Memo and the other volunteer heroes in our community, visit redcross.org/volunteer.

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