By: Doyle Rader
Dr. Alexia Mays wants your blood. The American Red Cross volunteer blood donor ambassador is passionate about blood donations. Not only does she understand the importance one donation can have in someone’s life, but it’s also an extremely personal matter for her.
She was born with sickle cell disease, a blood disease most common among people of African descent. Blood diseases like sickle cell unfortunately run in her family. She lost her mother to a rare blood disease at age four and her father passed away from complications from sickle cell when she was six. These losses and her own battle with sickle cell compelled her to want to make a difference.
“I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a researcher, and I wanted to be a scientist,” Mays said. “I wanted to make an impact in the community because of the fact that sickle cell is one of the most under-researched, underfunded disease in the nation — it is one of the oldest diseases in the nation — and it is greatly because of the people that it impacts.”
An epidemiologist by training, Mays began volunteering with the Red Cross when she was 17 years old. She turned her focus to blood donations and the Red Cross Sickle Cell Initiative because she wanted to dispel rumors and start an active dialog with the Black community — and all donors — about the importance of giving blood.
“We don't give enough kudos to blood donors because without them, we're not here,” Mays said. “People at the hospitals are not going to live without them — can't have transfusions without them. Sickle cell kids who are going into crisis will not be able to avoid that crisis. So, it's so many different things that people don't understand about a 10-minute procedure that can change the entire landscape of a person's life.”
Not only is Mays a Red Cross blood donor ambassador, but she also founded a foundation, which works with the Red Cross Sickle Cell Initiative, to support other sickle cell warriors. Founded in 2020, the May5Foundation, which Mays named to honor her mother, father and siblings, helps people dealing with rare blood diseases as well as provides counseling for those dealing with depression, grief and loss.
“We organize peer-to-peer discussions, not just for kids who have rare blood disorders and sickle cell, but also for kids who are going through grief, loss and trauma, where they're able to sit down and talk amongst each other,” Mays said. “Sometimes we are so big at pushing the professional side of mental health that we don't realize that there's so much more of a personal side.”
The foundation distributes “Amaysing” bags that have resources inside for people who are dealing with grief and trauma. It also hosts a sickle cell camps each summer for kids that might not otherwise be able to have a camp experience because of their blood disorder. These camps expose kids to activities like bowling, fishing, gardening and horseback riding, Mays says.
Through the work of the May5Foundation and her role as a Red Cross volunteer blood donor ambassador, Mays is on a mission to make blood donations routine so that sickle cell warriors, like herself, and hospital patients have the lifesaving blood they need. As she says, blood is the universal bond that ties everyone together.
“One of my reasons for becoming an ambassador with Red Cross is that it gives a human side [to blood donations],” Mays said. “I want more and more and more and more. I'm not going stop until we have all our blood banks full — until we are saying, ‘Wait a minute, let's pause before we put some more blood in here.’ That's where I want to be.”