How blood donations help those with sickle cell disease

The CDC says one of every 13 African American babies are born with the sickle cell trait.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A Philadelphia woman is urging people to consider donating blood as she continues her lifelong battle with sickle cell disease.

"I'm in constant worry that I might not wake up," said Tahirah Austin-Muhammad.

For the first six years of Austin-Muhammad's life, her parents had endless questions.

"Why was I always sick? Why my cold lasted longer than my siblings? Why I got tired a lot easier," she said.

The answer came when she fainted at school and doctors diagnosed her with sickle cell disease.

"(It's) really unusual because sickle cell is a genetic disorder that you're usually diagnosed with at birth," she said.

The disorder means her red blood cells break down and die early. The blood shortage often means pain, fatigue, infections, and in Austin-Muhammad's case, it leads to kidney disease. It also means she needs frequent blood transfusions as she hopes for a cure in the future.

"I'm walking around still working, still mothering, still being a wife... but I'm in need of blood," she said.

Thirty years after her diagnosis, she's an advocate with the Red Cross and the chief operating officer of Crescent Foundation, which helps people with the disease -- most of whom are African American.

The CDC says one of every 13 African American babies are born with the sickle cell trait.

"In our culture, those things are not spoken about, so it's time to shift the tide," she said.

As Austin-Muhammad deals with complications related to sickle cell, she currently needs blood transfusions every two weeks. Because of her disease and her blood type, she needs a very specific donor, which is why it's important the pool of who's donating expands.

"You will want blood that is from someone of the same ethnicity so that you're not going through any reactions, so that you receive blood with no complications," she said.

The Red Cross is aiding in that process with its "Blue Tag Program," which marks blood donations that could potentially be used for sickle cell patients.

For Austin-Muhammad, that donation will save her life.

"There's life in your blood, literally," she said.

You can sign up for the 2022 6abc Philly Blood Drive being held on March 30th here.
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