By Mimi Teller
Born and raised in Los Angeles, American Red Cross volunteer Gary Soloff might be one of the first friendly faces you see at the beginning of your next blood donation appointment. As a Medical Screener, Gary provides whole blood and Power Red donors free and fully confidential mini-health screenings prior to their donation. He checks each donor’s blood pressure, hemoglobin, pulse rates, temperature and through a series of health questions, helps confirms a donor’s eligibility and health status to ensure a safe donation.
While a teenager attending Kennedy High School in the San Fernando Valley, Gary’s very first volunteer experience involved blood donations where he was given the responsibility of carrying donors’ blood donation units from the donor table to the processing area. Ironically, when Gary became a Red Cross volunteer during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic it was again at his alma mater Kennedy High. Instead of helping handle blood units at his high school stomping grounds, this time Gary handled food distribution to community members in need.
When the food distribution program scaled down, Gary wanted to continue volunteering for the Red Cross and sought other opportunities. Volunteer Medical Screeners like Gary use their education, professional skills and experience to assist blood donors through the collections process with a lifelong interest in healthcare and one and half years’ experience as a health scholar working alongside nurses and physicians assisting with hospital patients, training to become a volunteer blood donation medical screener presented as the perfect opportunity. Preparation for the volunteer Medical Screener position required five days of classroom education followed by 10 days in the field and on the job training. This volunteer role also aligns with Gary’s academic pursuits which include entering UCLA’s School of Nursing Masters Entry Clinical Nurse (MECN) program this fall.
In addition to some of the technical requirements of the volunteer role, Gary notes some of the Red Cross mission moments. “Donating blood can be an emotional experience” Gary shared, “When there’s been death in a family people feel they want to do something proactive, for many it’s donating blood. One donor started to cry during her medical screening — she had just lost her husband and was donating blood in his honor. This woman affirmed for me what the Red Cross does is an incredible thing.”
Gary also serves as a board member for the Red Cross Western Los Angeles Chapter.
To learn more about volunteering, visit redcross.org/volunteer.