Media Contact: Ronnika A. McFall
Phone: (678) 614-3643
May 18, 2020 — The American Red Cross encourages healthy individuals to make appointments to donate blood to ensure blood remains readily available for patients who still rely on transfusions during this uncertain time. Right now, African American blood donors are critically needed to help patients battling sickle cell disease amid this coronavirus outbreak.
Since mid-March, the number of African Americans donating blood with the Red Cross has dropped by more than half. This low donor turnout is largely due to blood drive cancellations at businesses, churches, and schools and the disproportionate COVID-19 infection rates for African Americans compared to other ethnicities.
“Blood transfusion helps patients with sickle cell disease – the most common genetic blood disease in the U.S. – and African American donors play an important role in their treatment,” said Dr. Yvette Miller, executive medical officer, Red Cross Blood Services. “We want to assure donors that their health and safety is a top priority for the Red Cross. By adding safeguards to our drives in response to this coronavirus, we hope individuals will roll up a sleeve to help those counting on their donation.”
Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions – including social distancing and face coverings for donors and staff – have been implemented to ensure the health of all those in attendance.
How blood donations help patients with sickle cell disease
In the U.S., about 100,000 people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds are living with sickle cell disease, most of whom are of African or Latino descent. African American blood donors are vital for many patients with rare blood types, like those with sickle cell disease, who depend on blood that must be matched very closely – beyond the A, B, O, and AB blood types – to reduce the risk of complications.
Despite the decline in blood donations from African American donors, the need for blood products for patients with sickle cell disease has remained steady. Without a readily available blood supply, sickle cell patients can experience severe pain, tissue and organ damage, acute anemia, and even strokes. Furthermore, sickle cell patients are at high risk of serious complications from coronavirus infection, and blood transfusion can be a lifesaving treatment for these patients.
Who blood donations help
On March 28, Alexis Jarrett experienced a pain crisis brought on by sickle cell disease. She had extreme fatigue with severe pain on the right side of her body. Her doctor wanted to avoid hospitalization because of the increased risk COVID-19 poses to sickle cell patients, so she tried to get the pain under control at home and through outpatient care.
But, on March 31, as the pain continued to intensify, Jarrett was forced to visit the emergency department and was admitted to the hospital. Her hemoglobin had dropped to critically low levels. She needed a blood transfusion, but having received over 30 transfusions in her lifetime due to sickle cell disease, she has built up antibodies that make it challenging to find a suitable blood match. She had to wait two more days to receive her transfusion due to a shortage of the unique blood she needs.
“I couldn’t have anyone at the hospital with me because of the coronavirus risk, so I was alone. And, the whole time, I was suffering,” Jarrett said, “but the blood was almost immediate help. I could feel it immediately.” Her hemoglobin recovered, and she was discharged the next day, after spending three days in the hospital. Now, nearly a month later, she is still recovering. Her hemoglobin remains lower than it should be, but despite the resulting fatigue, she is doing better.
Jarrett believes that the COVID-19 crisis has brought an important silver lining – people coming together to help others - and blood donors may have a profound impact. “I think sometimes when issues like COVID-19 happen, they seem so big that we don’t understand how our little bit can help," she said. “But for me, your little bit means a lot. You are helping make a difference and helping my life continue on.”
To those who may be hesitant to give blood, Jarrett added, “Getting in the car to ride down to the Red Cross is different from riding to the store,” she said. “Getting out of the house and knowing you helped save a life – to say ‘I did this to make sure someone else could live’ – that’s one of the best parts of society. At the end of the day, that’s what matters.”
Make an appointment
Healthy individuals who are feeling well are asked to make an appointment to donate this May by downloading the free Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device. Donors are asked to schedule an appointment prior to arriving at the drive and are required to wear a face-covering or mask while at the drive, in alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public guidance.
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.
Blood and platelet donors can save time at their next donation by using RapidPass® to complete their pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of their donation, before arriving at the blood drive. To get started, follow the instructions at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass or use the Blood Donor App.
About the American Red Cross
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.