Last month, while communicating with Kate Meier, Communications and Marketing Manager for the Carolinas Red Cross chapter, I glanced down and saw the tagline at the bottom of her email. It said: “Change a Life.”, “Ask me how you can change a life today.” I felt a catch in my throat. The Red Cross had changed MY life. I would not be here today without them.
On Jan. 15, 2009, when US Airways flight 1549 hit the Hudson River in New York, it hit hard. I was one of the last people off the plane and spent seven minutes in the frigid water before I was lifted aboard a nearby ferry boat. Sitting on that boat, freezing and with no feeling in my hands or feet, I suddenly felt a touch of warmth. My shoulders had been cloaked in a Red Cross blanket. Thankfully, the New York and New Jersey Red Cross chapter volunteers were among the first to arrive on the scene of the crash and someone made sure that I had gotten one.
I treasured that blanket as if it were a fine gem, like a rare ruby with healing powers. It still reminds me of the care and compassion I was shown from those angels that day. Minutes later, I was rushed to the hospital and my wet clothes, now frozen to my body, had to be removed. Shortly after, a pair of sweat pants appeared as if out of nowhere.
Again, a responder with the Red Cross made sure I had something dry to wear. I felt relief; I was beginning to feel somewhat human again. I will never forget those simple acts of kindness and will be forever grateful. The moment I got to dry land, the Red Cross folks from the Northern New Jersey and New York Red Cross chapters were there. When I arrived home, the Red Cross in Charlotte met me off the plane and comforted my family. They also checked in with me later that night to make sure I was OK.
Today, I hold a very special place in my heart for the Red Cross. What they do is so very important and I believe in it strongly. Through the “Miracle on the Hudson” experience, a new door in my life has opened; a mission if you will, to share gratitude, hope and faith. I have been able to share my story with so many people through speaking publically, in a variety of settings such as churches, senior groups, business meetings and conferences, fundraisers and most notably Red Cross functions.
I was truly honored to speak at the Tiffany Circle 2009 Women’s Leadership Summit this past June in Washington, D.C. In July, a fellow passenger, Barry Leonard, and I hosted a THANK YOU luncheon for the first responders on-site at Palisades Medical. Immediately following that event, I was honored to speak at a wonderful reception given by the North Bergen, New Jersey, Red Cross chapter. Next, I will be the keynote speaker at the American Red Cross Southwestern Pennsylvania Chapter’s inaugural Heroes Breakfast on Tuesday, Sept. 29, at the Rivers Club in Downtown Pittsburgh.
I was recently a guest on the morning radio show for KDKA – NEWSRADIO 1020, The Voice of Pittsburgh helping to promote this event. On Oct. 21, I will be traveling to Charleston, S.C., to speak at the Tiffany Circle Recruitment for the Carolina Low Country Chapter.
As you can see, I am fortunate to be included in so many wonderful events, and I am happy to give back to a group that gave so much to me. Many times, church and senior groups that I speak to ask if they can bestow an honorarium. I always suggest that they make a donation to the Greater Carolinas Chapter of the American Red Cross in Charlotte.
A family of fine gems makes up the Red Cross. I am now blessed to be a part of and contribute to such a treasured organization that I consider part of my own family.
US Airways Flight 1549
Note: These thoughts (and more) are also captured in the forthcoming book, “Brace for Impact: The Search for Meaning in Near Death and Hope in New Life–Voices from Flight 1549.” Proceeds from the book will benefit the American Red Cross. Reserve your copy today!