As the American Red Cross celebrates African American History Month throughout February, eligible blood and platelet donors of diverse backgrounds are encouraged to donate to help meet the needs of all patients.
Lifesaving blood and platelet donations are needed for accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or blood disorders.
DIVERSE DONORS HELP PATIENTS
The Red Cross reminds individuals about the importance of having blood donors who are as diverse as the patients who need their help. All patients are matched by blood type and Rh factor prior to transfusion. For some patients, additional red cell markers in donated blood also have to be matched. These markers are determined by ethnicity and are best found in a diverse donor base.
“There are more than 600 known antigens besides A and B, so I want to stress just how necessary it is that blood donors from all ethnic groups are rolling up a sleeve,” said Dr. Claire Meena-Leist, Red Cross divisional chief medical officer. “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. In many cases, patients are less likely to have complications from blood donated by someone with a similar ethnicity.”
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.
REMEMBERING DR. CHARLES DREW
African American History Month is also a great time to honor the legacy of Dr. Charles Drew, the first medical director of the Red Cross. Dr. Drew was an African American surgeon and modern blood banking pioneer. In 1941, Dr. Drew became the medical director of the first Red Cross blood bank. Dr. Drew is credited with helping to save lives during World War II because of his research about the storage and shipment of blood plasma.
MAKE AN APPOINTMENT TO GIVE
Blood and platelet donors of all types are needed. 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.