American Red Cross urges more African Americans to donate blood to sickle cell disease patients

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The American Red Cross is in great need of more African Americans to donate blood, which is a critical need for many patients with sickle cell anemia.

Sickle cell disease affects 100,000 Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it affects one out of every 365 African American births, which is 73% of all cases.

Christian Johnson, who grew up in Philadelphia's Mt. Airy section, was diagnosed with the rare blood disorder months after birth.

The Hampton University graduate now resides in Dallas, Texas working for Lexus corporate.

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Growing up he described constantly being taken to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to receive blood transfusions, which are common for sickle cell patients.

Sickle-shaped cells cause pain because they block blood vessels and disrupt blood flow throughout the body.

"Between the ages of 5 to 12, I would basically, every 4 weeks, go into the hospital. I would have a blood transfusion where they would take apart my blood and put donor blood into my body with healthy red blood cells," Johnson said.

His story speaks to why the American Red Cross needs more African Americans to donate blood.

"African Americans, people of African descent, have some unique blood cells or proteins," said Dr. Yvette Miller with the American Red Cross. "For patients that require frequent transfusions like sickle cell disease, they require closely matched blood."

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The American Red Cross finds that out of screening 250 units of blood from white donors, they will find only one match for someone with sickle cell disease. Whereas from Black donors, there will be 28 matches. A single patient could need several units of blood at one time. Doctors say it's important for them to have enough of a diverse blood supply on the shelf at all times.

The organization has seen a significant drop in African American blood donors during the pandemic. While African Americans make up 13% of the population, in September of 2020 only 2.3% donated blood.

The American Red Cross wants people to know that strict CDC guidelines are followed at all centers. People can also host virtual blood drives to encourage friends and family members to donate.

For more information on how to get involved, CLICK HERE.
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