Red Cross Features Thriving Sickle Cell Patient to Increase Blood Donations, Raise Awareness

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by Mary Chapman |

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blood vessels in SCD

During National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, the American Red Cross is asking people to consider making a blood donation to benefit sickle cell disease patients — like Marqus Valentine.

After all, such donations are crucial for Valentine, who was told by physicians, just before turning 30, that he would never reach that milestone. Fast forward six years, and Valentine is not only alive — he’s thriving.

Along with his sister Ashley, Valentine is co-founder of Sick Cells, a nonprofit that seeks to elevate the voices of the sickle cell disease (SCD) community.

The pair were named the 2019 Red Cross Blood Services Heroes.

Diagnosed at 6 months old, Valentine has battled SCD his entire life. He still needs occasional blood transfusions to fortify him.

SCD affects red blood cells via an abnormal version of hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen throughout the body. The altered hemoglobin is known as hemoglobin S, or sickle hemoglobin, because it causes normally oval-shaped red blood cells to assume a sickle shape. That often results in blood flow blockages that can lead to severe pain, tissue and organ damage, acute anemia, and sometimes stroke.

Infusions are used to provide normal red blood cells to the patient’s body. They help against anemia and lessen the blood’s viscosity, allowing blood to flow more freely. This helps ease disease symptoms and prevent complications.

“Everything gets harder when the blood is not in my system,” Valentine said in a Red Cross profile advocating for blood donations. “You feel really good after a transfusion and like you can take on the world, like you’re Superman.”

He should know. Valentine had his first transfusion at age 8 during his first acute pain episode, which is known as a “crisis.” Over 36 years, he’s received more than 500 units of blood through transfusions.

Still, he spends his days working through his non-profit and making sure patients’ stories are heard, encouraging blood donations, and advocating for change. He’s spurred on in part by memories of friends lost to the disease, which occurs in about 1 in every 365 African-American births, and one in every 16,300 Hispanic-American births.

“I just got tired of seeing my friends dying from something, that if they would have only paid attention sooner and [to] factors that play into their health,” Valentine said.

To donate blood during Sickle Cell Awareness Month and beyond, visit this site to schedule a Red Cross appointment, or call 1-800-RED-CROSS. All blood types are needed. Blood and platelet donors can save time by using RapidPass to complete the pre-donation process. Go here to get started.