Red Cross initiative aims to increase blood availability for patients with sickle cell disease

Blood transfusions from donors who are Black may provide best outcomes for patients

When patients living with sickle cell disease face a sickle cell crisis, blood transfusions can make a lifesaving difference. That’s why the American Red Cross has launched an initiative to grow the number of blood donors who are Black to help patients with sickle cell disease, an enduring and often invisible health disparity in the U.S.

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Over 100,000 people in the U.S. have sickle cell disease, the most common inherited blood disorder, and the majority of patients are of African descent. Despite the discovery of the disease more than a century ago, there have been fewer health resources available to help those currently suffering from sickle cell crisis in comparison to similar diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with sickle cell disease experience worse health outcomes than comparable diseases.

A closer blood match leads to better outcomes

Many patients with sickle cell disease will require regular blood transfusions to help manage their disease. Glinda Dames-Fincher, of Mayfield Heights, has lived with sickle cell disease for more than 60 years. She receives monthly red cell exchange transfusions as part of her treatment.

Unfortunately, these patients may develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to their own. Many individuals who are Black have distinct markers on their red blood cells that make their donations ideal for helping patients with sickle cell disease. More than half of blood donors who are Black have blood that is free of C, E and K antigens – making them the best match for those with sickle cell disease.

Life-threatening complications

Sickle cell disease distorts soft, round blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped, which can cause extreme pain. When hardened, the cells can get caught in blood vessels, potentially leading to stroke and organ failure.

“Transfusions provide healthy blood cells, unblocking blood vessels and delivering oxygen,” said Dr. James Westra, Red Cross regional medical director. “By increasing the amount of closely matched blood products, the Red Cross is able to help ensure the right blood product is available at the right time for patients facing a sickle cell crisis – minimizing complications for those with rare blood types fighting sickle cell disease.” makenzie-nance-002

Cleveland teenager Makenzie Nance was a preschooler when she received her first blood transfusion to help overcome complications from sickle cell disease. She visits local high schools to educate students about sickle cell disease and her family hosts blood drives to encourage more Black donors to give. You can read Makenzie’s story here.

The Red Cross asks members of the Black community to join in helping to address this health disparity and meet the needs of patients with sickle cell disease. Donors can take action today by scheduling a blood donation appointment at RedCrossBlood.org, by downloading the Blood Donor App or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS. To help tackle the need for blood in September – Sickle Cell Awareness Month − all donors who come to give with the Red Cross Sept. 13-30 will receive a limited-edition football-themed T-shirt, while supplies last. 

 

 

Building a blood supply as diverse as the community it serves

Just as people have different hair or eye color and come in all shapes and sizes, they also have different blood types. While most blood types fall into one of the four major groups: A, B, AB and O, some people have rare blood types. Because of their rare blood types, these patients need a more diverse blood supply.

Red blood cells carry markers called antigens that determine one’s blood type. There are more than 600 known antigens, some that are unique to specific racial or ethnic groups. For example, U-negative and Duffy-negative blood types are two types unique to the African American community. When treating patients who have these rare types, blood from donors of the same ethnic background is less likely to cause complications.

November 22, 2020. Portsmouth, Virginia. Grove Church Blood Drive 2020. Photos by Jared Beasley/American Red Cross

This is especially important for patients who have chronic blood disorders that require regular blood transfusions. Glinda Dames-Fincher, of Mayfield Heights, has lived with sickle cell disease for more than 60 years. Sickle cell disease is the most common genetic blood disease in the U.S. and it largely affects those of African and Latino descent. It causes red blood cells to be hard and crescent-shaped instead of soft and round. As a result, blood has difficulty flowing smoothly and carrying oxygen to the rest of the body. Blood transfusion is a known treatment for patients with sickle cell disease.

“As part of my treatment, I receive monthly red cell exchange transfusions. I receive two pints of red blood cells during each of these transfusions,” said Dames-Fincher. “I have received regular blood transfusions for the last 20 years to help manage my sickle cell disease. Without donated blood, sickle cell patients face sickle cell crisis, and other complications such as strokes, organ failure, chronic wounds, and shortened lifespan.”

The need for blood is constant and all eligible donors are encouraged to give and help meet the need. Whether blood is needed for a chronic condition, such as sickle cell disease, a surgical procedure or a large-scale emergency, it’s the blood already on the shelves that helps save lives.

To find a blood drive near you and make an appointment, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or download the free Red Cross Blood Donor App. Visit Red Cross Blood & Diversity to learn more about the need for diverse blood donors.

Blood donations to treat sickle cell disease are needed

By Tim Poe, American Red Cross volunteer

September 25, 2020- September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month, and the need for blood donations to assist the 100,000 Americans with sickle cell disease is especially critical this year. While the disease does not have a cure, blood transfusions are one of the most effective treatments. The American Red Cross requests anyone who can help with a lifesaving blood donation to do so.

Sickle cell disease, which mostly affects those of African and Latino descent, causes red blood cells to be hard and crescent-shaped. Blood has difficulty flowing smoothly and carrying oxygen to the rest of the body, which may lead to severe pain, tissue and organ damage, acute anemia and even strokes.

As Christy Peters, External Communications Manager for Red Cross’ Northern Ohio Biomedical Services, reported in June, blood donations from African Americans are vital in treating sickle cell disease, as blood must be closely matched to reduce the risk of complications. During the COVID-19 pandemic, however, she noted, “the number of African Americans donating blood with the Red Cross has dropped by more than half.”

Julie Broze at MetroHealth Medical Center’s Hematology/Oncology Department also mentioned the importance of blood donors in treating sickle cell disease. While MetroHealth has not had its blood supply for sickle cell patients hindered, she said more people donating is vital, as the demographic can be difficult to match. African Americans who do not have the sickle cell trait or disease are especially encouraged to donate, as their blood has a greater chance to have needed antigens and be a better match.

For a personal perspective, I spoke with Demeatrice Nance, whose daughter Makenzie, now 16, has sickle cell disease. Both Demeatrice and Makenzie are effective advocates in educating people about sickle cell, the need for blood donations, perseverance and helping others.

Makenzie has given a number of talks, especially to fellow young people, on sickle cell and the need to donate blood. Demeatrice, a Certified Community Healthcare Worker for the Ohio Sickle Cell and Health Association, has performed vital roles in a number of efforts, including the largest African American blood drive in Ohio.

Their outlooks are inspiring. While they have faced sickle cell disease—and its personal and emotional challenges—for 16 years, they focus on being positive and doing what is needed. This remains true even during the current pandemic. Demeatrice said there is a greater need for blood, but many are currently afraid to give, so she and her daughter are continuing to educate and help.

An avid football fan, Makenzie adapts a coach’s saying that, when you get hit, keep your legs moving as you can still gain yardage. Makenzie says we can learn from that, whether donating blood, facing sickle cell, cancer, COVID-19 or other hardships. Even with the hits we are experiencing, we need to keep going, as we’ll help ourselves and others gain a bit more. So please, consider donating blood.

For another powerful perspective on sickle cell disease, please read Glinda Dames Fincher’s story here.

More information on joining the fight is available here.

Information on donating blood and Coronavirus is available here.

Edited by Glenda Bogar, American Red Cross volunteer

African American blood donors critically needed to support sickle cell patients

By Christy Peters, External Communications Manager, Northern Ohio Biomedical Services

June 19, 2020- In the U.S., about 100,000 people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds are living with sickle cell disease, most of whom are of African or Latino descent, such as Glinda Dames Fincher of Mayfield Heights. African American blood donors are vital for many patients with rare blood types, like those with sickle cell disease, who depend on blood that must be matched very closely – beyond the A, B, O and AB blood types – to reduce the risk of complications.

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Glinda Dames Fincher

Since mid-March, the number of African Americans donating blood with the Red Cross has dropped by more than half. This low donor turnout is largely due to blood drive cancellations at businesses, churches and schools and the disproportionate COVID-19 infection rates for African Americans compared to other groups.

Despite the decline in blood donations from African American donors, the need for blood products for patients with sickle cell disease has remained steady. Without a readily available blood supply, sickle cell patients can experience severe pain, tissue and organ damage, acute anemia and even strokes. Furthermore, sickle cell patients are at high risk of serious complications from coronavirus infection, and blood transfusion can be a lifesaving treatment for these patients.

Blood and Plasma Donation 2020

The American Red Cross encourages healthy individuals to make appointments to donate blood to ensure blood remains readily available for patients who still rely on transfusions during this uncertain time. Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions – including social distancing and face coverings for donors and staff – have been implemented to ensure the health of all those in attendance.

Make an appointment

Blood and Plasma Donation 2020

Healthy individuals who are feeling well are asked to make an appointment to donate in the weeks and months ahead by downloading the free Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device. Donors are asked to schedule an appointment prior to arriving at the drive and are required to wear a face covering or mask while at the drive, in alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public guidance.

Blood donation sites in Northern Ohio include:

  • The Warzel Donation Center – 3747 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
  • The Parma Donation Center – 5585 Pearl Road, Parma, Ohio 44129
  • The Summit Donation Center – 501 W. Market Street, Akron, Ohio, 44303
  • The Toledo Donation Center – 3510 Executive Parkway, Toledo, Ohio 43606