April is National Minority Health Month and the American Red Cross is raising awareness about health disparities that disproportionately affect racially and ethnically diverse populations by encouraging action through giving blood.
In the U.S., it is estimated that more than 100,000 people have sickle cell disease, which distorts soft and round red blood cells and turns them hard and crescent shaped. 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, anemia, and even strokes.
Kelly is a nurse who was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at birth. During the first few years of her life, she did not experience any pain crises. However, at the tender age of four, she suffered a severe stroke in the middle of the night due to sickle cell complications. As a result of the stroke, her mobility was impacted, leaving her with a limp.
To avoid further complications or strokes, Kelly began receiving monthly blood transfusions which continued throughout her childhood. Since her adolescent years, she has received red blood cell exchanges every seven to eight weeks. During this process, her abnormal red blood cells are removed and replaced with healthy red blood cells from blood donors. Thanks to volunteer blood donors, Kelly’s mother estimates she has received thousands of units of blood.
“Blood donation is necessary,” said Kelly. “After hearing my story, my husband realized the importance of blood donation and was inspired to become a blood donor.”
Patients with sickle cell disease, the majority of whom are of African, Latin and Mediterranean descent, may need blood transfusions throughout their lifetime, with some requiring closely compatible blood to avoid complications. Disease burdens such as sickle cell disease remain higher among communities of color. Having a strong and diverse blood supply is important to improving the health of these populations and helping to save lives.
“A blood shortage would definitely be devastating for me,” said Kelly. “I have gone through seasons where there wasn’t enough blood available. So, I could only get one or two units versus the eight units I usually get.”
Blood donations remain essential to the health of communities. Individuals of all blood types are urged to make an appointment now by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).
While supplies last, those who come to give blood, platelets or AB Elite plasma April 1-23, 2023, will receive an exclusive Red Cross and PEANUTS T-shirt featuring Snoopy as the coolest beagle in town, Joe Cool!