More Black blood donors urgently needed to help sickle cell patients
The American Red Cross is emphasizing the unique role Black blood donors play in the medical treatment of those living with sickle cell disease during Sickle Cell Awareness Month this September. Right now, more Black blood donors are critically needed to help patients battling sickle cell disease as blood drives – especially those at schools, colleges and universities – continue to be canceled at alarming rates.
Last spring, more Black blood donors gave at Red Cross blood drives held at educational institutions 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.
“Sickle cell disease profoundly impacts the quality of life of those living with this inherited blood disorder, and your blood donation could be the donation that helps a patient keep fighting,” said Dr. Yvette Miller, executive medical director, Red Cross Blood Services. “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.”
More Black blood donors are urged to make a blood donation 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.
How donations from Black blood donors help sickle cell patients
About 100,000 people in the U.S., most of whom are of African or Latino descent, are living with sickle cell disease, making it the most common genetic blood disease in the country. 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 transfusion helps sickle cell disease patients by increasing the number of normal red blood cells in the body, helping to deliver oxygen and unblock blood vessels. Patients with sickle cell disease depend on blood that must be matched very closely – beyond the A, B, O and AB blood types – to reduce the risk of complications. Some of these rare blood types are unique to specific racial and ethnic groups, and because of this, sickle cell disease patients are more likely to find a compatible blood match from a blood donor who is Black.
The Red Cross is testing blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies. The test may indicate if the donor’s immune system has produced antibodies to this coronavirus, regardless of whether they developed symptoms. Red Cross antibody tests will be helpful to identify individuals who have COVID-19 antibodies and may qualify to be convalescent plasma donors. Convalescent plasma is a type of blood donation collected from COVID-19 survivors that have antibodies that may help patients who are actively fighting the virus. Donors can expect to receive the results of their antibody test within 7 to 10 days through the Red Cross Blood Donor App or the donor portal at RedCrossBlood.org.
The Red Cross is not testing donors to diagnose illness, referred to as a diagnostic test. To protect the health and safety of Red Cross staff and donors, it is important that individuals who do not feel well or believe they may be ill with COVID-19 postpone donation.
Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions – including temperature checks, social distancing and face coverings for donors and staff – have been implemented to help protect the health of all those in attendance. 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.
How to donate blood
A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.
Blood and platelet donors can save time at their next donation by using RapidPass® to complete their pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of their donation, before arriving at the blood drive. To get started, follow the instructions at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass or use the Blood Donor App.
About the American Red Cross
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.