Mom makes plea for diverse blood donors

Appeal comes during Sickle Cell Awareness Month

By Theresa Carter, guest blogger and proud supporter of the American Red Cross of Greater Akron and the Mahoning Valley

In the U.S., it is estimated that over 100,000 people – the majority of whom are of African descent – have sickle cell disease and may require blood transfusions throughout their lifetime to help manage their disease.

Theresa Carter, speaking at the Acts of Courage Awards in March, 2022

The American Red Cross has launched a national initiative to grow the number of blood donors who are Black to help patients with sickle cell disease and improve health outcomes.

Sickle cell disease is an enduring – and often invisible – health disparity in the U.S. Despite the discovery of the disease more than a century ago, there has been fewer health resources available to help those currently suffering from sickle cell disease in comparison to similar diseases.

The Red Cross currently provides sickle cell trait screening on all donations from self- identified African American donors. This additional screening helps the Red Cross identify compatible blood types more quickly to help patients with sickle cell and provides our African American donors an additional health insight during a time when health information has never been more important.

This cause is near and dear to my heart because both my daughters have sickle beta thalassemia disease, a minor form of sickle cell. You see, I have a sickle trait and their father has the thalassemia trait. We had no clue until our children were born that we had these traits and that our girls would have this disease. Therefore, screening is so very important…. just to know; to understand the cause and then educate ourselves so that we can be our best advocates if and when the time arises for medical care.

Garvin and Theresa Carter with daughters Erin and Cesily

Please take action today and schedule a blood donation appointment by visiting RedCrossBlood.org, using the Blood Donor App or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

Editor’s note: Regular blood transfusions are critical to managing extreme pain and life threatening complications faced by many. Unfortunately, they may develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to their own. However, because most individuals who are Black have unique structures on their red blood cells that are not often found in other donor populations, 1 in 3 African American blood donors is a match for people with sickle cell disease.

Sickle cell disease distorts soft, round blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped, which can cause severe pain. “When cells harden, they can get caught in blood vessels, potentially leading to stroke and organ failure,” says Dr. James Westra, Regional Medical Director. “Transfusions provide healthy blood cells, unblocking blood vessels and delivering oxygen, minimizing crises patients with sickle cell may face.”

Seasonal changes can trigger pain crises for those battling sickle cell – possibly increasing the need for lifesaving blood transfusions. As summer ends, book a time to give blood by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767). As a thankyou, all who come to give through Sept. 18 will get an exclusive Red Cross T-shirt, while supplies last.

Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross board member and volunteer

Red Cross aims to increase African American blood donations to combat sickle cell disease and meet critical need

By Eilene E. Guy, American Red Cross Volunteer

Recently, I was talking with visitors at a family health fair, explaining the always- urgent need for blood donations. I was especially targeting African-Americans, asking what they know about sickle cell disease.

Interestingly, their responses ranged from a blank look to, “Yes, I lost a cousin to sickle cell.”

Keith Lofton of Olmsted Falls at a recent blood drive in Rocky River

Apparently this is not unusual, which is why the American Red Cross is leading a national drive to raise awareness and recruit more blood donors who are Black. This is because their blood is uniquely suited to help patients with sickle cell disease live full and comfortable lives.

“As an organization dedicated to alleviating suffering, the Red Cross is committed to the health and well-being of all communities, and a diverse blood supply is critical to improving health outcomes for all patients – especially those with sickle cell disease,” said Gail McGovern, CEO and president of the Red Cross. “For someone facing a sickle cell crisis, a blood transfusion can make a lifesaving difference.”

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a hereditary condition that can be life threatening. It leads to anemia (a shortage of red blood cells), causing fatigue and possible damage to blood vessels and vital organs. It often causes severe pain that can last for hours or days; it can even lead to disabling strokes.

In the U.S., it’s estimated that more than 100,000 people have SCD and roughly 1,000 babies are born with the disease every year. SCD knows no national boundaries, which is why June 19 is designated World Sickle Cell Day.

Blood transfusions from individuals of the same race or similar ethnicity and blood type are the most effective way to help patients experiencing a sickle cell crisis. Since the majority of people with sickle cell are of African descent, blood donations from Black individuals are critical in helping those suffering from this disease.

Sabrina Spikes works full time for the Red Cross to rally African-American civic and faith-based organizations to recruit and educate.

“It’s vital that we get the word out as much as possible, to get more blood donors who are Black,” she said. “Here in northern Ohio, we’ve seen an increase (in donor numbers), but we still have work to do. Especially in the summer, when blood donations tend to fall off.”

In addition to recruitment, Sabrina’s other priority is education: preparing potential donors for a successful experience at a blood drive.

“Preparation is key,” she said. “Drinking plenty of water and eating iron-rich foods is important. And cutting out caffeinated beverages — coffee, tea, sodas — that slow the absorption of iron helps cut the deferral rate of donors, especially African-American women.”

Sabrina herself carries the trait for sickle cell, although she does not have the disease. It was important for her to know that: If the father of her three children had also had the trait, the children would suffer from the life-long condition. Sadly, too many babies are born with SCD.

The need for blood is not limited to patients with sickle cell disease. Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion, including women or girls experiencing childbirth complications, people fighting cancer, surgery patients and accident victims.

Bridget C. Miller Harper of Cleveland at the Browns Blood Drive in July, 2021

Fifty-one percent of people who are Black have type O (positive or negative) blood, in comparison to approximately 45% of white individuals. Type O blood is most often needed by hospitals to help patients, so donors who are Black play a critical role in meeting the constant need for blood.

Blood products have a limited shelf l-life and volunteer donors are the only source of blood and platelets for patients in need of lifesaving transfusions.

“My call to action is, schedule a blood donation appointment by visiting  RedCrossBlood.org, downloading the  Blood Donor App  or calling 1-800-RED CROSS,” Sabrina said.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer
Posted by Ryan Lang, American Red Cross volunteer and board member