Henry James and Frank McDowell are longtime volunteers with the American Red Cross of Central New York. For more than 25 years, Henry and Frank have staffed the free blood pressure screenings from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Wednesday at the Red Cross office, which is now at 344 W. Genesee St. in downtown Syracuse.
The blood pressure screenings are dedicated to monitoring blood pressure on a regular basis, directing clients with elevated blood pressure readings to seek proper medical treatment, and increasing public awareness of the dangers of high blood pressure.
“There is a perfectly good reason why high blood pressure is also known as ‘the silent killer,’ ” Henry said. “There are no subjective symptoms that people can feel that would alert them to the fact that they may indeed have high blood pressure.”
High blood pressure, when undiagnosed and untreated, can slowly lead to a stroke, angina, congestive heart failure, atherosclerosis, kidney disease, kidney failure and blindness.
“Henry and I feel that our job is to not only provide free blood pressure screenings, but to educate our clients as to why high blood pressure is so dangerous and what the consequences are when we fail to monitor our blood pressure, especially after age 40,” Frank said.
From London to Syracuse
Born in London, England, Henry James served in World War II as an anti-aircraft gunner on the British Royal Navy light cruiser HMS Sheffield. During the war, Henry’s ship was sent to the port of Boston for refitting due to the lack of dry dock space in Great Britain. While on shore leave in Boston, Henry visited a center dedicated to providing a “home away from home” for British sailors, soldiers and airmen, similar to the USO. While there, Henry met a young woman who would soon become his wife.
“Oddly enough, her father was born on the same street in London as my father so while she was born in the U.S. she still maintained dual-citizenship, which would serve to help us after we married and she joined me in England after the war,” said Henry.
In 1948, Henry, his wife and their 2-year-old son left England for the United States. Shortly after arriving in the U.S., Henry enrolled at Northeastern University in Boston. After taking a series of pre-admission classes and exams, he was admitted to the Mechanical Engineering program. After a long career that took him across the country and back, Henry retired from the Veterans’ Administration in 1984 as its Chief Engineering Officer in Syracuse.
“When I retired in 1984, a fellow Shriner convinced me to become a volunteer at the American Red Cross in Syracuse and I ultimately became an ‘Advanced EMT’ and joined EAVES Ambulance service, where I met Frank whenever we had to transport a patient from the Carrier Corp. to one of the area’s hospitals,” Henry said. “Frank was an EMT at the Carrier Corp. at the time.”
Henry served with EAVES until 2004 but continued at the Red Cross as an instructor in First Aid, Advanced First Aid. Now in his late 80s, Henry is far from ready to retire from the American Red Cross!
I Know You
While conducting the Red Cross’ blood pressure screenings, Henry was joined by Charlotte McDowell, a Registered Nurse who became his partner until her death in 2010. Her husband, Frank, who was already a Red Cross volunteer, took her place at the screenings, where he and Henry have served together ever since.
“While serving as an inspector at Carrier Corp. I was also a trained Basic EMT and whenever we had a patient who needed to be transported to one of the area hospitals we contacted EAVES and that is where I met Henry, who was an Advanced EMT serving with EAVES Ambulance Service,” Frank said. “My wife, Charlotte, was encouraging me to meet her blood pressure partner, Henry, and, when I did, we discovered that we already knew each other having met during my service at Carrier!”
In 2004, after 30 years at Carrier, including 15 as a Basic EMT, Frank’s position was one was of many that were eliminated. Subsequently, he took advantage of the company’s educational assistance programs and entered Syracuse University. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Information Management & Technology with a minor in Anthropology. While serving as an EMT at Carrier, Frank was also an EMT with NAVAC Ambulance Corp. and is currently an Inactive Lifetime Member of NAVAC.
“In addition to my volunteering at the American Red Cross, I serve as a volunteer twice weekly at Crouse Hospital and have been serving there for the last six years,” Frank said.
Henry James and Frank McDowell are typical of the many dedicated volunteers serving at the American Red Cross in Syracuse and across the United States. They both served to assist people who were victims of disasters, and they now serve to educate and assist their clients at the blood pressure screenings. Henry and Frank bring a lifetime of experience, education and dedication to the Red Cross, with their primary mission to educate and help the members of the Central New York community.