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