June 19 is an important day around the world, especially for those who are impacted by sickle cell disease. World Sickle Cell Awareness Day is a time to highlight the fact that in the United States there about 100,000 individuals of various racial and ethnic backgrounds living with sickle cell disease and the great majority are of African and Latino descent. The American Red Cross supports one of the most critical patient treatments – blood transfusion.
Why Sickle Cell Patients Rely on Blood Transfusion
Living with sickle cell disease can be difficult. Environmental factors and minor changes in levels of stress, nutrition and rest can prompt a sickle cell crisis. These crises occur in patients when red blood cells, which are usually soft and round, harden and form a C-shape, like a sickle.
Once distorted into a sickle, red blood cells have difficulty smoothly carrying oxygen through the body. In addition to severe pain, sickled red blood cells can cause tissue and organ damage, acute anemia and even strokes. Some patients equate the excruciating pain to the feeling of being stabbed with shards of glass.
However, blood transfusions can help ease the pain by increasing the number of normal red blood cells so they can resume their function of carrying oxygen throughout the body, as well as return hemoglobin to healthy levels.
Diverse Blood Donors are Essential to Patients Like Alexis
Although blood donations are often critical in the care of sickle cell patients, receiving frequent blood transfusions can make it difficult to find a suitable blood match when patients go into crises. These patients need closely matched blood from donors of a similar race and ethnicity to help prevent complications from transfusion therapies. Diverse donors are essential to sickle cell patients.
This spring, during the height of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., 31-year-old Alexis Jarrett felt the absence of diverse blood donors when she experienced extreme fatigue and severe pain on the right side of her body. She went to the emergency room when outpatient care was no longer an option to effectively treat her pain crisis. Jarrett was admitted into the hospital immediately.
Sickle cell patients like Jarrett are at a high risk for developing serious complications from coronavirus infections. The possibility only added to Jarrett’s stress and left her fearful and uneasy. “I’m sick in the hospital, I’m terrified to be here because I don’t want to catch COVID. It was like the worst thing for me to go through,” she said.
“You Absolutely Saved My Life”
Having received more than 30 blood transfusions in her lifetime, matching Jarrett’s unique blood needs was challenging during a shortage. She recalls the moment her medical team revealed blood was not available, “My doctors walked right in the room and said Alexis, unfortunately we don’t know when we will be able to get you blood’”
She waited in pain and uncertainty for two days before blood was located. The transfusion worked almost immediately, and she was released from the hospital the next day. Jarrett reflects on the importance of diverse donors in the care of sickle cell patients and encourages eligible individuals to roll up a sleeve to give.
“My appeal to anyone who wants to give blood and who is on the fence about it, please give. You absolutely saved my life that day,” said Jarrett. “Step up and become that hero and help other sickle cell patients like me, especially people of color.”
Safety at Blood Drives and How to Give Blood
This is the time to take care of one another, and blood donation is essential to ensuring the health of those in our community, especially sickle cell patients. Now all blood, platelet and plasma donations will be tested for coronavirus antibodies to provide donors insight into whether they may have been exposed to this coronavirus.
If you are feeling well, please schedule an appointment to give blood, visit RedCrossBlood.org, use the Red Cross Blood Donor App, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or activate the Blood Scheduling Skill for Amazon Alexa.
Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control. To ensure the health of staff and donors, precautions include:
- Checking temperatures of staff and donors before entering a drive to make sure they are healthy.
- Providing hand sanitizer for use before entering the drives, as well as throughout the donation process.
- Following social distancing between donors including entry, donation and refreshment areas.
- Ensuring face masks or coverings are worn by both staff and donors.
- Routinely disinfecting surfaces, equipment and donor touched areas.
- Wearing gloves, and changing gloves often.
- Using sterile collection sets and an aseptic scrub for every donation.
Learn more about COVID-19 blood donation safety protocols.
About blood donation
Thanks to Amazon, all those who come to give June 1-30 will receive a $5 Amazon.com Gift Card via email.*
In most states, individuals who are 17 years of age (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.
To save up to 15 minutes at the blood drive, donors are encouraged to complete a RapidPass. With RapidPass, donors complete the pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of donation, from a mobile device or computer. To complete a RapidPass, follow the instructions at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass or use the Red Cross Blood Donor App.
*Restrictions apply. Additional information and details are available at RedCrossBlood.org/Together