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Sickle Cell Awareness Month Highlights Need for Diverse Blood Donors

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month, and the American Red Cross reminds individuals of the importance of having a diverse blood supply to help meet the needs of all hospital patients, including those with this blood disease.

Sickle cell 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, which have been proven effective to treat some severe complications from the disease including stroke and damage to major organs that can lead to severe infections. Blood transfusions increase the number of normal red blood cells in the body, helping to deliver oxygen throughout the body and unblock blood vessels.

INSPIRATION FROM TYMIA Living with sickle cell disease can be challenging. Ten-year-old Tymia McCullough, of Georgetown, South Carolina, knows the struggles firsthand.

Tymia has already been hospitalized 40 times, received 42 blood transfusions and experienced surgeries to remove her spleen and gallbladder. The side effects of sickle cell can make Tymia feel ill and slow her down from doing the things she loves – dancing, cheerleading and modeling.

However, her determination to fight the disease continues to push her to challenge herself and inspire others. Tymia is an honor roll student and was crowned Miss South Carolina Jr. Pre-Teen in 2015.

“You can be anything or do anything – you just have to put your mind to it,” said Tymia, who is hoping to be a pediatrician and a model when she grows up. “Without the Red Cross and blood donations, I would not be who I am today.”

GRATITUDE FOR DONORS For Tymia’s mother, words cannot express enough gratitude for those who so generously volunteer to roll up a sleeve.

“The American Red Cross has our deepest appreciation for all they do,” said Tymia’s mom Susie Pitts. “For the blood donors, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts, because you have given just a little of your time to ensure someone like our daughter is able to live. WE THANK YOU!!”

Tymia’s mother also understands the importance and gives blood on a regular basis. She continues to encourage others to do so as well.

“The feeling that I get knowing that my blood is going to someone in need warms my heart and soul,” said Pitts. “Whether it is a child or an adult, I know that a part of me is out there helping someone far or near in a way only blood can.”

DIVERSE DONORS NEEDED 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. For these reasons, it is extremely important to increase the number of available blood donors from all ethnic groups.

HOW TO DONATE For more information or to schedule an appointment to donate blood, 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 (16 with parental consent in most states), 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.

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