Sickle Cell Awareness Month Coming Up in September: Your Help Is Needed, Donate Now!

Tonja Ward | 8/21/2008, 6:55 p.m.
For individuals with Sickle Cell Anemia, receiving life-saving blood transfusions can be a monthly routine. In fact, some Sickle Cell ...

In recognition of Sickle Cell Awareness Month which is in September, Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center encourages African-Americans to help bridge the gap for patients with illnesses that require matched blood transfusions. African-Americans are needed to Commit for Life and donate once per quarter.

“Blood donation is, quite simply, an easy thing to do.  It takes very little time out of your day and how many of us can say, “I saved a life today”?” asks Dr. Beth Hartwell, Medical Director of the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center.  Because many individuals with Sickle Cell Anemia depend on blood transfusions to function and live Dr. Hartwell  went on to state that “that is what you do when you donate -- you save lives.”

Sickle Cell Anemia affects one in 400 African-Americans. Because these patients often require specifically matched blood and are more likely to find a match within their own ethnic group.  “Blood from African-Americans in particular often provides a better “match” for our patients with Sickle Cell Disease.  We know that certain proteins (called “antigens”) on our red blood cells are inherited, just like we inherit the color of our eyes and hair” explains Dr. Hartwell.  Individuals with sickle cell disease who are transfused over a period of time cannot receive blood transfusions from individuals who have certain antigens on their red blood cells that they may have become sensitized to.  “The best match is blood from someone who lacks that protein as well -- an African-American donor” insists Dr. Hartwell.

The red blood cells of an individual with Sickle Cell Anemia become crescent-shaped (“sickled”) and inflexible, and get trapped in small blood vessels.  As a result the oxygen they carry does not get to all the tissues causing those cells and tissues stop functioning properly.  This can lead to pain in bones and joints, chronic damage to organs, and an increased risk of getting infections.  At its worst, Sickle Cell Disease can cause strokes and heart, kidney, or liver failure.

By transfusing red blood cells that do not contain the sickling hemoglobin, blood counts are boosted to correct the anemia that is another problem for sickle cell patients and the normal cells take oxygen to organs and tissues, allowing them to function normally.  “There is really no other means to help get oxygen to the right places other than these life-saving transfusions” says Dr. Hartwell.

“I feel great every time I donate blood. I consider it a contribution to the community and I feel very blessed to know that someone is able to enjoy more time with their loved ones because of my selfless act” says Lynette Montgomery a Commit for Life donor since 1999.

To help meet patient’s needs The Blood Center must collect more than 900 donations a day. In addition to traumas and surgeries, many others use blood – cancer patients, premature babies, patients with Sickle Cell Anemia, burn patients, cardiac patients and many more. One blood donation from you can help save up to 3 lives

“Most people say they don’t donate because no one asked them. We are asking you -- please donate” requests Dr. Hartwell.

For more information on how Commit for Life to donate and finding the center closest to you Call the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center at 713-791-7730 or Toll Free: 1-888-482-5663. Or visit their website www.giveblood.org.