Too often, diseases and disparities that affect the Black community at a disproportionate rate receive little attention. It is estimated that over 100,000 people in the U.S. have sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder, which may require regular blood transfusions to manage the disease.
To improve health outcomes for all, the American Red Cross has announced a national initiative to increase the number of blood donors who are Black to help patients with sickle cell disease and support the greater health needs of our communities.
Sickle cell disease distorts soft and round red blood cells and turns them hard and crescent shaped, which can cause individuals to experience extreme pain and face life-threatening complications. Blood transfusion is essential in managing the very real pain and long-term health of those with sickle cell disease. Individuals with sickle cell disease can require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lifetime to treat complications of their disease. Unfortunately, this can make finding compatible blood types more difficult when patients develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to the blood of the recipient.
How can donating blood help save someone’s life? Many individuals who are Black have unique protein structures on their red blood cells that make their donations the most compatible blood to help patients with sickle cell disease. Since the majority of people with sickle cell disease are of African descent, blood donations from individuals who are Black are critical in helping those suffering from this disease.
Blood donations are also needed for individuals experiencing childbirth complications, people fighting cancer and accident victims being raced to emergency rooms. Fifty-one percent of individuals who are Black have type O (positive or negative) blood, in comparison to approximately 45% of individuals who are white. Type O blood is most often needed by hospitals to help patients, and therefore, donors who are Black play an important role in meeting the constant need for blood.
Bringing more awareness to the disease and the importance of blood donation is Larenz Tate, an American actor popular for his roles in 90s films like Menace II Society and Love Jones and in more recent roles like Bronzeville and Power. While Tate does not suffer from sickle cell disease, he has been an advocate for those battling this disease for 20 years. To bring awareness to this disease, Tate, along with his brothers, founded The Tate Brothers Foundation.
Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins knows first-hand the challenges of living with sickle cell. At the age of seven, she learned she was living with the disease, and told she would not live past the age of 30 and be unable to have children. Today at 51 years old, Watkins has two children and has sold over 65 million records world-wide as one-third of the best-selling American girl group in the world, TLC.
Jalen Matthews was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at birth. At 11 years old, she had a stroke due to sickle cell complications which caused blood clots on the base of her spine and paralysis in her left arm. Since then, every four to six weeks Jalen has received red blood cell exchanges, a non-surgical therapy that removes five units of abnormal red blood cells and replaces them with five units of healthy red blood cells obtained from blood donors. For 24-year-old Jalen, regular blood transfusions help keep her sickle cell complications at bay and have allowed her the opportunity to complete an undergraduate and master’s degree. “Without red cell exchanges, I wouldn’t be able to leave the state for school because I would be in constant pain,” said Jalen. “Thanks to donors, I have been able to receive regular blood transfusions and live a fairly normal life, and I’m grateful for that.”
Our blood saves lives. To learn more about sickle cell disease and the valuable role blood donors who are Black play in treatment visit: RedCrossBlood.org/OurBlood. Please schedule an appointment to give blood or sign up to host an in-person or virtual blood drive to help make a lifesaving impact.
(This article was sponsored by the Red Cross)
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