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American Red Cross to Honor Local Heroes, Greater Chicago Region

The honorees have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of others from caring for patients with HIV to being a champion of installing automatic external defibrillators on commuter trains.

The American Red Cross will honor 13 local individuals who have demonstrated acts of heroism at their annual Heroes Breakfast next month. The honorees have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of others from caring for patients with HIV to being a champion of installing automatic external defibrillators on commuter trains. They helped homeless veterans find a place to live, fed the hungry in their community, increased blood donations and were able to save hundreds of elderly and disabled residents from evacuating a nursing home during a summer power outage.

Two of this year’s awards will be given posthumously; one to a Chicago firefighter who lost his life in the line of duty and the second to a pediatric physician who saved two children from a lake before he was pulled underwater and drowned.

The honorees will be recognized at the American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast on April 17 at the Fairmont Chicago, 200 N. Columbus Drive. To purchase tickets or for more information contact 312.729.6271 or visit

Andrew P. Studdert of NES Rentals will be honored with the Heritage Award, which recognizes corporate responsibility to employees, consumers and the public. Under Andrew’s eight years of leadership with the construction supplier that specializes in aerial equipment rentals, the company practices a culture of safety and preparedness that includes rigorous inspections and maintenance checks. Andrew draws from his experience as a former airline executive where he helped navigate the company through the September 11, 2001 national tragedy.

Donald C. Liu, MD, PhD, will be honored posthumously as the Adult Good Samaritan Hero. A renowned Chicago pediatric surgeon whose career was dedicated to the health and well-being of children, Dr. Liu saved two youths from a lake last summer before he was pulled underwater and drowned. Dr. Liu is remembered for his courageous actions as both a consummate medical professional and as a brave and selfless person.

Acey Longley of Plainfield will be honored as the Youth Good Samaritan Hero. When he was 7 years old, Acey began volunteering at his church’s soup kitchen. By age 8, he was an Illinois ambassador for Legos for Luekemia. Most recently, 9-year-old Acey started his own charity, BEATS, that honors his late musician father’s memory by bringing instruments and iTunes cards to children in local hospitals.

Kevin Lakomiak of Mokena will be honored as the Blood Services Hero. Kevin has spearheaded coordination of the blood donation program at the Pipefitters Local Union 597 training facility for the past six years. Kevin and his volunteers have collected 1,218 pints of blood that resulted in the potential of 3,654 lives saved.

Lynne Donegan of Orland Park will be honored as the Citizenship Hero. When Lynne’s 30-year-old niece, Colleen, who was training for the Chicago marathon at her local gym suffered sudden cardiac arrest and died, Lynne became an advocate for training to use and installation of AEDs in public venues. Her effort helped resuscitate an old bill in the Illinois State Assembly and in 2005 the Colleen O’Sullivan Law was signed that requires every physical fitness facility to have an AED on site. The law further helped pass the new mandate that AEDs be installed on all Metra commuter trains.

Neli Vazquez-Rowland of Chicago will be honored as the Community Impact Hero. Neli is the co-founder of A Safe Haven Foundation, a recovery program which helps people aspire, transform, and sustain their lives from homelessness to self-sufficiency with pride and purpose in Chicago. Beginning as a 13-unit building in Logan Square in 1994, the foundation has expanded to 500 apartments throughout the city that sheltered 240 earthquake survivors from Haiti in 2010 and housed 4,000 homeless individuals last year.

Michael Pretzer of Park Ridge will be honored as the Disaster Relief Hero. As temperatures soared above 100 degrees last summer, a power outage caused the air conditioning system to quit in a six-floor, 260-unit nursing facility in Des Plaines. Michael, an information technology specialist and a volunteer for the nonprofit Collaborative Healthcare Urgency Group (CHUG), was able to set up emergency generators and cooling fans that prevented the evacuation of hundreds of elderly and disabled residents.

Donielle Johnston of Elgin will be honored as the Emergency Medical Assistance Hero. Last summer Donielle was heading east on I-290 in DuPage County when she drove upon a horrific rollover car crash that injured a three-month-old baby and his parents. Donielle rushed to the aid of the infant who had severe lacerations and was losing large amounts of blood. Trained in First Aid, Donielle applied gauze to stop the bleeding and comforted the parents until paramedics arrived.

Captain Herbert Johnson will be honored posthumously as the Firefighter Hero. A 32-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department, Captain Johnson was the first in his engine company to run inside a burning Gage Park apartment building on the South Side in November. The family survived, but Captain Herbert perished. Known as “Herbie” to his friends and firehouse family, he is remembered for his dedication to public service.

Sergeant Christopher Kapa and Officer Kirsten Lund of Chicago will be honored as Law Enforcement Heroes. The two officers responded to a call from another Chicago Police Department officer of shots fired on the South East Side. Arriving at the scene, Sergeant Kapa and Officer Lund found their comrade hit by a bullet after chasing a suspect on foot. Officer Lund applied pressure to the officer’s bleeding chest wound as Sergeant Kapa rushed them to the emergency room, saving his life.

Joyce Carrasco of Elgin will be honored as the Military Hero. Joyce is the founder and director of Greater Chicago Blue Star Mothers, a support network for local military families. With two of her four children currently serving in the United States Air Force and Marine Corps, Joyce, along with other military moms in the group are holding down the homefront volunteering at the O’Hare USO and hosting baby showers for expectant mothers while service members are away from home. The Blue Star Mothers also present patriotic banners to parents of service men and women that honor their sacrifice.

Norma Rolfsen, RN, SNP, of Chicago will be honored as the Nurse Hero. For more than two decades, Norma has focused her nursing practice on people living with HIV. As the Project Director and Family Nurse Practitioner at the HIV Care program at the Michael Reese Research and Educational Foundation in Chicago, Norma provides specialty and primary care to patients in a hospital-based clinic. Her work also spans around the world as a board member for Nurses for Africa, which provides assistance to children who have been infected with AIDS.

Presenting Sponsors for the American Red Cross Heroes Breakfast are Allstate and ComEd. Breakfast Sponsors are Aon Corporation, ITW, United Airlines and Walgreens. Hero Award Sponsors are CDW, Fortune Brands Home & Security, W.W. Grainger, Inc., Motorola Solutions Foundation, NES Rentals, Northern Trust, PwC and USG. Ambassador Sponsors are BMO Harris Bank, Kirkland & Ellis, PNC Financial Services Group, Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation.

About the American Red Cross: The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies more than 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or join our blog at