Urgent call for Black blood donors during Sickle Cell Awareness Month

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FILE – In this Thursday, March 26, 2020 file photo, vials of blood for testing and a donated bag of blood will be sent for testing and use at an American Red Cross blood drive at the Carbondale YMCA in Carbondale, Pa. On Thursday, April 2, 2020, the U.S. government eased restrictions on blood donations from gay men and other key groups because of a drop in the nation’s blood supply triggered by the coronavirus outbreak. (Jake Danna Stevens/The Times-Tribune via AP)

The American Red Cross is sounding the alarm for Black blood donors this month citing the important role they play in the treatment of sickle cell patients.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Sickle cell disease causes red blood cells to be sticky, hard and crescent-shaped instead of soft and round. This makes it difficult for blood to flow smoothly and carry oxygen to the rest of the body, which may lead to severe pain, tissue and organ damage, acute anemia and even strokes. 

Blood transfusions help sickle cell disease patients by increasing the number of normal red blood cells in the body, helping to deliver oxygen and unblock blood vessels. Alexis Jarrett of Columbus knows all too well the benefits of a blood transfusion.

“I couldn’t have anyone at the hospital with me because of the coronavirus risk, so I was alone. And, the whole time, I was suffering,” Jarrett said, “but the blood was an almost immediate help. I could feel it immediately.” 

Jarrett says her hemoglobin recovered, and she was discharged the next day, after spending three days in the hospital. 

According to the American Red Cross, more Black blood donors gave at Red Cross blood drives held at educational institutions last spring than at any other blood drive location type. As drives across the country canceled this spring due to coronavirus concerns, the number of Black blood donors giving at these schools decreased from over 15,000 in 2019 to about 2,700 this year. Drives at educational institutions make up the largest percentage of fall blood drive cancellations, so the need for more Black blood donors for sickle cell patients is expected to remain urgent. 

 “The pandemic hasn’t stopped the need for transfusions for sickle cell patients. The Red Cross encourages eligible donors to roll up a sleeve and share their strength with patients during Sickle Cell Awareness Month,” said Dr. Yvette Miller, executive medical director, Red Cross Blood Services. 

You can make an appointment by downloading the 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.

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