American Red Cross seeks African American donors to help sickle cell patients

The American Red Cross is kicking off a new initiative in September as part of Sickle Cell Awareness month. 

Sickle cell affects 100,000 people in the U.S., in particular African Americans.  One in every 365 African Americans will be born with the disease. 

A key component in treating sickle cell disease is blood transfusions.  The Executive Director of the Red Cross’ Central and Northern Missouri division Abigail Anderson says there are traditionally less complications for patients if they receive blood donated from someone who shares similar markers on the red blood cells. 

“A patient is more likely to be compatible with a match from a blood donor of the same race or ethnic group so basically what that means is to avoid any transfusion-related complications, diversity matters.” 

Because of this, the Red Cross is asking African Americans to donate blood. 

Anderson says sickle cell disease distorts soft, round blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped.  This prohibits blood flow which makes the transfusions necessary. 

“So with sickle cell there’s a lot of pain and a lot of that pain comes with the lack of oxygen to vital organs, to muscles; it creates organ damage, it can cause tissue damage, and then also it can cause stroke.  So blood transfusions are essential for treatment for sickle cell.”

Anderson says since the start of the pandemic, the Red Cross has seen fewer African American donors which makes those donations so important now.  The average sickle cell patient can require 30 to 100 units of blood per year. 

To learn more about making a donation near you, visit the Red Cross website at redcrossblood.org