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African American History Month Highlights the Need for Diverse Blood Donors

During African American History Month, the American Red Cross reminds individuals how important it is that blood and platelet donors are as diverse as the patients who need their help.

Sickle cell disease is the most common genetic blood disease in the U.S., affecting as many as 100,000 people, most of them African-American and Latino. It is an inherited disease that causes red blood cells to form an abnormal crescent shape. Regular blood transfusions are one of the most common treatments for sickle cell disease, and patients who battle the disease may face a lifetime of transfusions.

Meet Blood Recipient Martin

It can be a struggle living with sickle cell disease. Twelve-year-old Martin Mwita, of Bellevue, Nebraska, must endure the challenges and pain of sickle cell. The disease has led to Martin experiencing strokes, frequent infections and acute pain attacks. The good news is that monthly blood transfusions help stabilize his health and let him do everyday things that most kids take for granted.

Generous blood donations allow Martin to keep doing what he loves – reading, playing video games and cheering for his favorite sports teams – the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Cavaliers and North Carolina Tar Heels. Martin also enjoys technology and dreams of working for Apple as a software engineer. Martin’s mother is beyond grateful for the individuals who selflessly roll up a sleeve so that her son can experience these joys in his life.

“Words cannot express my gratitude. They are literally giving life to my son,” said Martin’s mother Jacinta Mwita. “We rely on donors. Every bit counts. You just never know who is on the receiving end.”

Diverse Donors Needed

It is important to increase the number of available blood donors from all ethnic groups as some blood types are unique to certain racial and ethnic groups. Transfusions from blood donors of the same ethnic background are often most beneficial because they have less chance of causing complications for the recipient.

Red blood cells carry markers called antigens on their surface that determine one’s blood type. There are more than 600 known antigens besides A and B. Some patients with rare blood types or those who need repeated transfusions for treatment of sickle cell disease and other chronic conditions must be matched very closely.

Martin is one such patient. His mother says there are about 20 donors who are identified as a close match for Martin, and they are committed to donating on a regular basis for her son.

Make an Appointment to Give

For more information or to schedule an appointment to donate blood or platelets, use the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit redcrossblood.org, or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

Blood can be safely donated every 56 days. Platelets can be given every seven days – up to 24 times a year. 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. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent 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.

Ready To Donate

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