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

Last Updated on September 17, 2021 by American Red Cross

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — 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.

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. 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.

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, bydownloading theBlood Donor Appor 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. 

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 Chad Priest, CEO of the American Red Cross of Indiana. “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.”

Every transfusion counts

Fort Wayne native Joshua Jank was born with sickle cell anemia. At the young age of five, Josh had a number of small strokes. Without a routine of monthly blood transfusions, additional strokes would lead to disability and death for someone with sickle cell.

From ages 5 to 19, Josh received more than 400 units of blood from people willing to make a difference in the lives of others by donating blood. Josh has lived stroke-free enjoying his childhood and living a life free of pain and other sickle cell complications thanks to generous donors. Josh and his family hosted a Red Cross blood drive back in July to bring awareness to how significant blood donations are to those who are battling sickle cell anemia.

“Josh has enjoyed a quality of life made possible by the dedication and generosity of others who were willing to hit pause, visit a blood drive, and give the gift of life. Nothing beats that,” said Brenda Jank, Joshua’s mother.

Community partners lending support 

Partnerships with national and local organizations within the Black community are critical to building trust, sharing information and working together to engage new donors to help save lives. Nationally, the Red Cross is thrilled to announce new partnerships with preeminent organizations like the NAACP and 100 Black Men of America, Inc. to raise awareness about sickle cell disease as a persisting and heartbreaking health disparity, and to help patients with sickle cell disease by encouraging blood donations from individuals who are Black.

Locally, the Indiana Region of the American Red Cross of Indiana is partnering with 100 Black Men of Indianapolis, Inc. to help amplify the message of the need for more diverse blood donors.

SOURCE: News release from American Red Cross