Holidays can be difficult for those hospitalized and for those who have lost a loved one. Professional football tight ends coach Bobby Engram and his wife, Deanna, are honoring the life of their eldest daughter Bobbi by encouraging eligible individuals to give the gift of life to help meet the transfusion needs of patients battling sickle cell disease this holiday season.
Sickle cell disease, the most common inherited blood disorder in the U.S., causes red blood cells to be hard and crescent-shaped instead of soft and round. As a result, blood has difficulty flowing smoothly and carrying oxygen to the rest of the body, which may lead to severe pain, tissue and organ damage, acute anemia and even strokes. Blood transfusion has proven to be effective in treating some complications from sickle cell — a treatment the Engrams describe as “the life force”.
In March 2018, after an extensive stay in the PICU, their daughter Bobbi — a Towson University honors student and sickle cell warrior — depended on monthly blood transfusions to help prevent further complications of sickle cell disease until she passed in August of that year.
“Blood donations truly extended our daughter’s life,” said Bobby. “To extend the quality of life [of patients], it’s important to not just be a one-time blood donor but to try to be a regular donor.”
Right now, the Red Cross is facing historically low blood supply levels not seen in more than a decade. A decline in blood donations poses additional risks to patients who depend on blood transfusion for survival.
Making a blood donation is a way to support patients and their families who are counting on the generosity of blood donors, as well as a way for self-identified African Americans to learn their sickle cell trait status through screening the Red Cross is currently providing to donors as part of its Sickle Cell Initiative.
“We did not know that we both carried the sickle cell trait until we were pregnant with little Bobbi and learned we had a one in four chance of her having sickle cell disease,” said Deanna. “We’d gone our whole lives not knowing.”
Sickle cell trait is inherited and means that an individual received a sickle cell gene from one
parent but does not have sickle cell disease. Many individuals are unaware if they carry this trait as sickle cell trait testing at birth was not widely provided until 2006.
“We encourage people to make sure they get sickle cell trait tested,” said Bobby. “If we’d known our trait status, it still wouldn’t have changed anything. We still would have had a family, but education is power. It’s a simple test and you can get genetic counseling from your medical provider based on what you find out.”
Today, the Engrams are continuing to share their family’s journey with sickle cell through the Bobbi Engram Foundation, partnering with organizations like the Red Cross to increase awareness, expand blood donation opportunities in Black communities and to grow the number of blood donors who are Black to help patients in need, especially those batting sickle cell disease.
“This is not an easy conversation for us to have,” said Bobby. “But we understand that God has given us this task and we’re going to step up and we know he’s going to bring along all these amazing people to help us.”
How to donate blood
Simply download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to make an appointment or for more information. All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients. 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.