Juneteenth is a day of remembrance and celebration. As a mother to a newborn with sickle cell trait and wife to a husband who suffers from sickle cell disease, Juneteenth holds an even deeper meaning for me. It is a day that reminds me of the struggles and triumphs of my family and my community, and the importance of advocacy for those who are affected by sickle cell.
Our family’s journey with sickle cell began when my husband and I received news that our child could potentially be born with the sickle cell trait. We began to learn as much as we could about sickle cell and discovered that having the trait was not as severe as the disease itself.
Sickle cell disease is a genetic blood disorder that causes red blood cells to become crescent-shaped and can lead to severe pain, organ damage and complications such as stroke. It is estimated that over 100,000 people in the U.S. have sickle cell disease and may require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lifetime — as many as 100 units of blood per patient each year. Unfortunately, frequent transfusions can make finding compatible blood types more difficult. Since 1 in 3 African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell disease, the American Red Cross is working with partners in the Black community to grow the number of blood donors who are Black.
Many people do not understand the impact of sickle cell disease and the struggles that families face on a daily basis. It is important that we raise awareness and advocate for policies that support people with sickle cell. For this reason, in 2021 the Red Cross launched the Sickle Cell Initiative to inspire support for patients and their families. In the initiative’s first year, the number of first-time African American blood donors who gave with the Red Cross increased by 60%.
That's why I became a volunteer with the Red Cross. As a volunteer, I have had the opportunity to work with people who are well educated on the issues of sickle cell, including those who have the disease, those who have the trait and their families. I have found that being a volunteer has given me a sense of purpose and fulfillment and has helped me to make a difference in the lives of others. I feel a part of a larger community that understands our pain and shares a collective struggle.
As we celebrate Juneteenth, I am reminded of the importance of freedom and equality for all people, regardless of their background or medical conditions. It’s important that we continue to raise awareness about sickle cell disease and advocate for better care and resources for those affected by it. The Red Cross is committed to building trust, sharing information and working together to engage new donors who help save lives and support families like mine, living with sickle cell.
You too can help people living with sickle cell by donating blood or hosting a blood drive in your community. Help fight sickle cell disease. Schedule a blood donation today. Together, let’s make a difference in the lives of those affected by sickle cell disease.