Blood transfusions for SCD care focus of Red Cross blood drive

March 21 event was part of the Red Cross Sickle Cell Initiative

Marisa Wexler, MS avatar

by Marisa Wexler, MS |

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A bullhorn announces awareness in a blast of red ribbons.

The American Red Cross and the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Illinois (SCDAI) recently joined a national distributor of propane, natural gas, and other energy-related products to host a blood donation event to raise awareness about sickle cell disease and encourage blood donations to support transfusions for sickle cell patients.

“As always, we are honored to support our partners at the American Red Cross, and organizing a blood drive to promote sickle cell awareness is particularly rewarding,” Nandini Sankara, a spokesperson for New Jersey-based Suburban Propane, said in a press release about the March 21 event at the Red Cross of Greater Chicago, which serves more than 7 million people in northern Illinois.

Sickle cell is a genetic disorder wherein an abnormal form of hemoglobin, the protein that red blood cells use to carry oxygen through the body, forms clumps inside red blood cells, deforming them into the sickle-like shape that gives the disease its name. The deformed red blood cells are prone to getting stuck inside blood vessels, obstructing them and restricting blood flow in the body. The misshaped cells also tend to be destroyed more rapidly than healthy ones, which can lead to anemia, that is, a shortage of red blood cells.

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Importance of blood transfusions for SCD

Blood transfusions, wherein blood cells are taken from a healthy person and infused into a patient’s bloodstream, are a key treatment for keeping sickle cell patients healthy.

“A single patient with sickle cell may require up to 100 units of blood each year to address complications from the disease,” Sankara said.

Transfusions rely on using cells that are compatible with a patient’s blood type, because incompatible cells can lead to a dangerous immune reaction. But finding a matching donor for sickle cell patients can be tricky, especially since the disease predominantly affects people of African descent and blood donated from these populations is often in short supply in the U.S.

“More than 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease and one in three African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell disease,” said Mark Thomas, interim CEO of the Red Cross of Illinois. “We appreciate Suburban Propane’s continued support to help raise awareness for this critical need.”

The event was part of the Red Cross Sickle Cell Initiative, a larger effort spearheaded by the Red Cross that’s designed to increase blood donations, especially from African Americans, to ensure that donated blood is available to help sickle cell patients when they need it.

“We are thankful for the opportunity to contribute our support and encourage all eligible donors to join in giving the gift of lifesaving blood,” Sankara said.