When patients living with sickle cell disease face a sickle cell crisis, blood transfusions can make a lifesaving difference. That’s why the American Red Cross has launched an initiative to grow the number of blood donors who are Black to help patients with sickle cell disease, an enduring and often invisible health disparity in the U.S.
“Blood transfusion is mainstay of treatment for folks with sickle cell disease especially for complications such as stroke, recurrent acute chest syndrome or pulmonary hypertension,” said Dr. Reginia Crawford from the Durham VA and Duke University Sickle Cell program. “Ideally, red blood cell exchange is optimal because you can give several units without increasing volume and best in emergent situations such as acute stroke, acute chest, multiorgan failure. Simple transfusions are best with low hematocrits. Red blood cell exchange is sometimes used for men with sickle cell disease and persistent/recurrent priapism. In short, transfusions are key in sickle cell disease.”
A closer blood match leads to better outcomes
Many patients with sickle cell disease will require regular blood transfusions to help manage their disease. Unfortunately, these patients may develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to their own. Many individuals who are Black have distinct markers on their red blood cells. This makes their donations ideal for helping patients with sickle cell disease. More than half of blood donors who are Black have blood that is free of C, E and K antigens. This makes them the best match for those with sickle cell disease.
The Red Cross asks members of the Black community to join in helping to address this health disparity and meet the needs of patients with sickle cell disease. Donors can take action today by scheduling a blood donation appointment at RedCrossBlood.org, by downloading the Blood Donor App or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS.
September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. To help tackle the need for blood, all donors who come to give with the Red Cross Sept. 13-30 will receive a limited-edition football-themed T-shirt, while supplies last.
Sickle cell disease distorts soft, round blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped, which can cause extreme pain. When hardened, the cells can get caught in blood vessels, potentially leading to stroke and organ failure.
“Transfusions provide healthy blood cells, unblocking blood vessels and delivering oxygen,” said Lisa Macaluso, Regional Donor Services Executive for the Red Cross of the National Capital & Greater Chesapeake Region. “By increasing the amount of closely matched blood products, the Red Cross is able to help ensure the right blood product is available at the right time for patients facing a sickle cell crisis – minimizing complications for those with rare blood types fighting sickle cell disease