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American Red Cross' New Initiative Looks for Black Blood Donors to Help Fight Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a genetic condition, most commonly found among African Americans, that affects the body’s red blood cells and normally occurs when a child receives two sickle cell genes—one from each parent. It's estimated that 100,000 Americans are affected by SCD and about 1 in 13 African-American babies are born with the sickle cell trait, which can potentially result in having or passing the disease.

With SCD, red blood cells in the body die early, which means there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. People living with SCD often feel pain in their bodies that could last for a few hours or a few weeks and can suffer from problems such as infection, acute chest syndrome and stroke.

The American Red Cross recently launched a new national initiative to reach more Black blood donors to help patients with sickle cell disease and improve health outcomes. We recently spoke with Tiffany Taylor, a biomedical communications specialist on the American Red Cross national headquarters team, about sickle cell disease, blood donors and more.

Can sickle cell disease be prevented?

"It's a genetic disease. There's nothing you can do to prevent it. It occurs when both of the parents have the sickle cell trait present within their genes. And so, as a result, when both of the parents have a presence of the sickle cell trait their child has a 25% chance of either being unaffected, having sickle cell disease or having the sickle cell trait only. The difference between sickle cell disease and sickle cell trait is oftentimes those with sickle cell trait don't present with the same symptoms or issues or concerns as someone with sickle cell disease."

How is the American Red Cross using its latest initiative to fight sickle cell disease?

"Every individual who presents to give blood and self-identifies as African American will automatically have your blood donation tested for the sickle cell trait at no cost to you. We will provide those results to you within one to two weeks within our Red Cross blood donor app. And with that information, we would just encourage you if you do test positive for the sickle cell trait to follow up with your primary care physician to find out what that means for you as it relates to you individually, and your healthcare."

What are some misconceptions about donating blood?

"Some of the common misconceptions, and some of the things that tend to impact the Black community a lot are hypertension, high blood pressure, or diabetes. Sometimes we get these diagnoses, and we think that we can't donate blood. It's not that we've been told we can't, we may just assume that we can't. And the truth of the matter is if you have these conditions, and they're well managed with the medication you may be eligible to donate blood. We also provide a mini-health physical to any individual who presents to donate blood where we check your blood pressure, we check your iron levels."

"I would just like to encourage all my brothers and sisters in the black community to consider giving the gift of life. I am a second-generation blood donor. I started donating at 16 years old because my father was a blood donor and Red Cross would call the house and ask him to give. One day I asked him, why do they call you so often to come back and give? And he said "it's because I have O type blood, and so do you." And O type blood is always needed. And so, what I would like to share with the community today is that O type blood, O positive and O negative, is very prevalent in our community. It's almost like we have a superpower. Because with O negative blood it can be transfused to any patient regardless of their blood type. And in times of emergencies, when there's not enough time to type the individual's blood type, that is what medical professionals reach for when time is of the essence, that O negative blood."

Check out our full interview with Tiffany below.

To learn more about this initiative or the American Red Cross, click here.

Photos Courtesy of American Red Cross.


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