Brenda Green remembers the stark smell in that hospital room where her teenage son, Braden, lay in bed. She also remembers what ran rampant in her mind: That’s somebody’s blood going into my baby’s body. Is it going to work?
Braden had suffered from acute chest syndrome, the leading cause of death in people living with sickle cell disease. Doctors ordered an emergency transfusion.
“When he was getting the transfusion, he would open his eyes a little bit, look around, then look at me and doze back off,” Brenda remembers.
Eight years after that terrifying incident, Braden has been diagnosed with avascular necrosis, a disease resulting from a lack of blood supply to his bones. He’s suffered strokes and has had pneumonia multiple times. His memory is often impeded, too. He visits the surgeon for scans every few months, a new normal in his routine.
“Sickle cell causes damage anywhere that blood flows,” Brenda summarizes. “We've had some close calls to where we were waiting and I’m [wondering], is the blood available?”
Despite the constant challenges Braden faces, he’s leading an optimistic life. His secret: Giving back and focusing on people outside himself.
The Ripple Effect
“I’ve become used to the pain,” Braden says. It’s a narrative familiar to more than 100,000 people across the country who also suffer from sickle cell disease, many of whom depend on regular blood transfusions to treat complications of the disease. But finding closely-compatible blood can be a challenge, especially in the face of a blood shortage.
Right now, patients face concerning conditions in the wake of a near 25% drop in blood supply levels. Some surgeries and medical procedures may now depend on the public’s generosity to roll up a sleeve in order to take place. Blood transfused to patients with rare blood types, like those with sickle cell disease, must be matched very closely to reduce the risk of complications, and 1 in 3 African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell.
Brenda and Braden know this fact well. It’s why during Braden’s birthday month they decided to celebrate another year of life not just in honor of him, but all sickle cell warriors. Together, they co-founded a nonprofit called the B Strong Group. Its mission is to spread awareness of sickle cell disease and the importance of increasing blood on the shelves. The duo hosts a variety of community events connected to blood drives in tandem with other advocacy groups and health organizations.
The power of community support means everything to Braden. “If I’m hurting, they’ll comfort me and [I] feel better. So, I want to stay positive around everybody else,” he shares.
A Different Light
Brenda’s front row seat witnessing Braden’s courage has helped shift her perspective about their journey with sickle cell. “Every time we would go through a [sickle cell] episode, both of us [Brenda and her husband] would become devastated. We felt a level of guilt because it’s genetic; we gave it to him,” she says. But after a while, Brenda knew that thought pattern wasn’t helpful to herself or her family.
“Sometimes, I feel like complaining. But I watch him and I'm inspired. . .wanting to do my part,” she says. “He never holds grudges, never questions ‘why me?’ Once he regroups and feels better, he goes on his way. That’s an inspiration.”
That powerful transition now shines through their nonprofit’s mission, too. Because the community is meeting people with sickle cell disease up close and personally, people begin to see patients in a different light.
Brenda and Braden’s strength, power and optimism in action is a shining example of how local community champions are creating real impact when it’s needed most.
“Anytime I hear of a blood shortage or somebody having to wait for a blood match, it sends chills,” Brenda says. “I don't want any other parent to hear that. We know the need is constant. We know how it feels. We want the blood to be available at any time for anybody.”
As for Braden, his wisdom shines, too. He shares his wish for someone with a fear of needles on the fence about donating blood to think of someone like him, who gets plenty of needles every month. “I’d ask them if they could just do it this one time.”
This month, the Red Cross is launching Joined by Blood, a fall activation of the Red Cross Sickle Cell Initiative, representing the powerful connection between blood donors and patients. The Red Cross is also teaming up with partners in the Black community—such as 100 Black Men of America, Inc., Kier’s Hope Foundation, Inc. and others—to host blood drives and rally blood donors who are Black to support the blood transfusion needs of patients with sickle cell.
To schedule an appointment to give blood, visit RedCrossBlood.org/OurBlood or call 1-800-RED-CROSS (1-800-733-2767).