By Mike Tierney/American Red Cross
From personal experience, Lathan Singleton knows all too well the burdens that sickle cell disease places on its sufferers.
“It’s a constant tug-a-war with your body and, by extension, your mind,” Singleton says of the inherited red blood cell disorder that primarily impacts folks of African descent. “There were times I would leave the hospital feeling like a traumatized, heavily wounded soldier or a champion who has triumphed and reached a new level of patience, understanding and strength.”
Singleton’s positivity is reflected in The Unspoken Hero Society, a group that he founded whose focus is to address the mental health of those coping with the condition. As part of the current Sickle Cell Awareness Month designated by the American Red Cross, his non-profit organization sponsors several blood drives every year.
Singleton, a patient advocate for the Sickle Cell Medical Advocacy Group, reached out to the Red Cross on behalf of the foundation some years ago to launch the drives. “Advocating for the chronic disease community, specifically the sickle cell community, is our mission and I'm always looking for ways in which we can contribute,” he said. “Knowing how essential blood donations are, getting involved in drives related to sickle cell was a very natural and organic move for us to make.”
The drives help meet a significant demand given that only one in three African American donors is a match for those with sickle cell. The disease affects more than 100,000 U.S. residents, many of whom require regular blood transfusions to manage pain and complications. Transfusions offer healthy blood cells that deliver oxygen and potentially reduce the ill effects.
As challenging as the disease can be, Singleton says he strives to ward off discouragement — both with himself and fellow sufferers — with an uplifting attitude.