Savannah, GA — Sickle cell disease (SCD) affects about 100,000 people in the U.S., most of whom are African American. Ten percent of those individuals born with the blood disorder live in the state of Georgia.
Sickle cell disease, the most common blood disorder in the country, causes red blood cells to be sticky, hard, and crescent-shaped instead of soft and round, making it difficult for blood to flow smoothly and carry oxygen through the body. The block in blood flow can result in severe pain, tissue and organ damage, acute anemia, and even strokes.
Blood transfusion help patients with the disease by increasing the number of normal red blood cells in the body resulting in a smoother blood flow.
Red blood cells carry markers on their surface called antigens that determine blood type. Some are unique to specific racial and ethnic groups, and because of this, sickle cell disease patients rely on diverse blood donors.
Black History Month Virtual Sickle Cell Disease Forum
As part of its celebration of Black History Month, Red Cross encourages the public to learn about SCD by joining a Microsoft Teams Sickle Cell Disease Virtual Forum on Thursday, Feb. 11, at 7:00 p.m.
Dr. James Eckman, Emory Emeritus Professor of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology will be the event's featured speaker. Panelists include Dr. Baia Lasky, American Red Cross Medical Director, and Tierney Bell, Life Scientist MPH and sickle cell patient.
Dr. Charles Drew, who pioneered African American medical research and is known as the father of modern blood banking, will be recognized, and posthumously honored during the forum. Milford Greene, Ph.D., MPH, with the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia will also be honored.
Partnership with HBCUs and generating awareness in the community
The Red Cross is partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to extend a challenge to students, faculty, staff, and alumni to learn about SCD and donate blood to support individuals living with the disease.
Savannah State University will lead community efforts and hold a blood drive in honor of Jay Gandia, a local 13-year-old boy with sickle cell disease.
Shavonne Gandia, Jay’s mother, says her son lives through big challenges as he deals with the blood disease, which affects 1 in 365 African Americans.
"Jay takes eight pills a day, gets shots, blood draws and transfusions, and constant doctor's visits. He requires prior approval for the simplest things. When he's in a pain crisis, it's around the clock medicine, and if that doesn't work, it's off to the hospital," she said.
The 13-year-old says despite the challenges, there are some good days. "I get to go to sickle cell camp and go to special places and meet people that I would not have met if I didn't have sickle cell."
Blood transfusions are critical to treat and prevent complications resulting from the disease, including acute crisis and strokes. A single person can require up to 100 pints of blood each year.
“Our HBCU’s are in a unique position to change the trajectory of this health crisis as it relates to our blood supply for sickle cell patients. By engaging our students, faculty, staff, and alumni, we have a significant reach. We have an excellent opportunity to educate people, and hopefully, motivate them to donate blood to help those living with this disease. Savannah State is proud to be part of this community effort along with Red Cross of Georgia,” said Savannah State University Interim President Kimberly Ballard-Washington.
Donors are encouraged to donate blood through the American Red Cross on Thursday, Feb. 18, from noon to 5:00 p.m. at the Ballrooms in the Student Union of Savannah State University. To make an appointment to donate blood, visit RedCrossBlood.org and enter SAVState under Sponsor Code.
Blood donation safety precautions
To protect the health and safety of Red Cross staff and donors, individuals who do not feel well or who believe they may be ill with COVID-19 should postpone their donation. Each Red Cross blood drive and donation center follows the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions – including temperature checks, social distancing and face coverings for donors and staff – have been implemented to help protect the health of all those in attendance.
Donors must wear a face-covering or mask while at the drive and on the Savannah State University Campus, in alignment with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention public guidance. Individuals must present an ID at the gate as they enter the campus.
About blood donation
As the pandemic wears on, blood donations remain essential to the health of our communities. The American Red Cross relies on blood every day to meet the needs of patients who depend on lifesaving transfusions an average of every two seconds across the U.S.
All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients. To donate blood download the American Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit RedCrossBlood.org, call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enable the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device to make an appointment or for more information. A blood donor card or driver’s license or two other forms of identification are required at check-in. Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.
Blood and platelet donors can save time at their next donation by using RapidPass® to complete their pre-donation reading and health history questionnaire online, on the day of their donation, before arriving at the blood drive. To get started, follow the instructions at RedCrossBlood.org/RapidPass or use the Blood Donor App.
About the American Red Cross
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.