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Red Cross urges Black blood donors to help sickle cell disease patients

Jeanette Ortiz-Osorio/American Red Cross
Blood donation, Fairfax Blood Center, Fairfax, Virginia

The American Red Cross is urging more Black people to donate blood to help sickle cell disease patients, whose treatment depends on closely matching blood types. 

Sickle cell disease is a genetic blood disorder that affects about 100,000 people in the U.S., most of whom are African American. 

Patients often require regular blood transfusions. According to the Red Cross, the more closely those transfusions match the blood type of the patient, the less likely it is that complications will arise. Certain blood types, beyond simply A, B and O, are unique to different racial and ethnic groups, according to the organization.

“Sickle cell disease profoundly impacts the quality of life of those living with this inherited blood disorder,” Dr. Yvette Miller, executive medical director of Red Cross Blood Services, said in a statement. “The pandemic hasn’t stopped the need for transfusions for sickle cell patients."

Katie Potter with the American Red Cross of Western New York said that given disproportionate rates of COVID-19 among Black Americans and canceled blood drives at schools and universities, there is now a more urgent need.

“This is a unique situation that has presented itself as a result of the pandemic," Potter said, "where this particular community has a very unique and special opportunity to give to help support those who are, specifically, who are battling sickle cell disease.”

The Red Cross estimates that 15,000 Black blood donors participated in drives at college campuses and schools across the U.S. last year. This year, that number has reached about 2,700.

“The pandemic has really exacerbated the need and really kind of created this critical and urgent need for more Black blood donors to come out and help patients,” said Potter.

The Red Cross is holding a Sickle Cell Fighters Community Blood Drive from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 26 at Edgerton Community Center, 41 Backus St., Rochester. Donors are also encouraged to schedule an appointment at other nearby blood drives.

Noelle E. C. Evans is an education reporter/producer with a background in documentary filmmaking and education.
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