News Briefs

Saving Lives One Pint at a Time

Cheri Wood giving bloodMay 8, 2020: According to the American Red Cross, one pint of donated blood can potentially save up to three lives.

By that math, Cheri Wood, quality and training supervisor for the Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT) Customer Service Center in Salem, has potentially saved up to 207 lives.

"My dad was in a car wreck in 1978 and needed immediate surgery, but they didn’t have enough blood in the blood bank," she said. "They put out a call over the local radio and TV stations asking for blood donations to help my dad.

"Thankfully, there were enough people that responded and dad was able to get his surgery."

She was a young girl when the accident happened, but was old enough to understand how the blood donations made a difference not only in her dad’s life, but in her family’s.

"I just determined, when I got old enough, I wanted to give back,” she said. “So, when I turned 18, I started donating."

The Red Cross allows a person to donate blood every 56 days, but one has to be in good health.

"Through the years there have been instances when I haven’t been able to donate,” she said, “but I tried to stick to the ‘every 56 days’ as much as humanly possible."

She is thankful for VDOT’s Community Service Leave program, which allows her to take the time needed to donate.

Cheri is on track to give a total of nine gallons by June.

"Every time I give, I do it in memory of my dad, Charlie Martin, because others cared enough to donate for him," she said.

"As long as I'm able, I'll continue to donate because I know it is making a difference."

The VDOT Archaeologist Who Uncovered The Witch Bottle

April 21, 2020: Prior to joining the Virginia Department of Transportation in March 2019, Chris Shephard, Richmond District archaeologist, made a “bewitching” discovery in an archaeological excavation of a Civil War fortification furing the Interstate 64 widening project.

witch bottleHis team from William & Mary uncovered the “witch bottle” that recently went viral online.

Witch bottles, folkloric artifacts, are collections of objects buried or hidden in houses to ward off evil spells or witchcraft.

This particular bottle was discovered in 2016 in the median of I-64 near Williamsburg.

Though damaged, the cask and contents were intact, having been preserved by the dirt dumped when I-64 was first constructed.

Shephard said the bottle may have been used to store nails to set up the Union camp at Redoubt 9. But a member of his crew, based on his own knowledge of folk traditions and witchcraft in colonial Pennsylvania, suggested it may be a witch bottle

"There is compelling evidence, as the bottle was found buried upright near a brick hearth with a nest of iron nails inside [similar to other bottles],” he said.

“There are ample written accounts of these practices in America and Europe and examples have been found archaeologically.

"On the other hand, all we have in this particular bottle is nails. If there was a cork on the bottle it disintegrated long ago in the acidic Tidewater soil, and any organic materials that may have been in the bottle are long gone.”

Still, he remains skeptical about the artifact’s purpose. A witch bottle is a deeply personal item, which are atypical in longer-term encampments.

“Soldiers likely spent most of their time in permanent accommodations in town, where they kept their personal effects,” Shephard said. “A rarely manned outpost that never saw action after it was taken by the Union seems an unlikely place to bury a witch bottle, but I can’t say what was in their heads.”

Though his team didn’t have time for further research, the item is still one of fascination and may be revisited by other archaeologists.

“The great thing about archaeology is that in circumstances where the evidence points you in multiple different directions, it is okay to have multiple interpretations.”

Butterflies for Christmas

Susan Shaw and butterfliesMarch 10, 2020: It started as a Christmas gift.

Susan Shaw, Northern Virginia's megaprojects director for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), received a kit on how to raise monarch butterflies, a vital pollinator species that has steadily declined in recent years.

Shaw planted the first milkweed seed in early spring and a few months later found the first butterfly egg.

“I followed a YouTube series by Mr. Lund Science on how to create a habitat and raise the larva (caterpillars) into adult butterflies,” she said.

By the end of fall she had raised and released more than 47 butterflies.

Susan documented the process with photos, highlighting each stage of the monarch life cycle.

She tagged and registered dozens on, to track their migration to Mexico.

And as more eggs hatched, Susan recruited a few helping hands from nearby public schools.

“I gave 27 eggs to a second-grade class at Poplar Tree Elementary School and six eggs to Oakton High School,” she said.

Each school reported successful releases.

Pollinator preservation has bled into Susan's work as well. As part of the Interstate 66 Express Lanes Outside the Beltway, the project team is working with local preservation groups to identify ideal locations for pollinator habitats, such as interchanges and commuter lots.

The Northern Virginia District already has several stretches of corridors preserved for natural habitats along areas such as routes 7 and 15 in Loudoun County.

Learn more about monarchs and how you can help at VDOT’s pollinator habitat program page.

Page last modified: May 8, 2020