The American Red Cross is emphasizing the unique role black blood donors play in the medical treatment of those living with sickle cell disease during Sickle Cell Awareness Month this September.

Right now, more Black blood donors are critically needed to help patients battling sickle cell disease as blood drives — especially those at schools, colleges and universities — continue to be canceled at alarming rates.

Last spring, more black blood donors gave at Red Cross blood drives held at educational institutions than at any other blood drive location type. As drives across the country canceled this spring due to coronavirus concerns, the number of black blood donors giving at these schools decreased from over 15,000 in 2019 to about 2,700 this year. Drives at educational institutions make up the largest percentage of fall blood drive cancellations, so the need for more black blood donors for sickle cell patients is expected to remain urgent.

“Sickle cell disease profoundly impacts the quality of life of those living with this inherited blood disorder, and your blood donation could be the donation that helps a patient keep fighting,” said Dr. Yvette Miller, executive medical director, Red Cross Blood Services. “The pandemic hasn’t stopped the need for transfusions for sickle cell patients. The Red Cross encourages eligible donors to roll up a sleeve and share their strength with patients during Sickle Cell Awareness Month.”

More black blood donors are urged to make a blood donation appointment by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device.

About 100,000 people in the U.S., most of whom are of African or Latino descent, are living with sickle cell disease, making it the most common genetic blood disease in the country. Sickle cell disease causes red blood cells to be sticky, hard and crescent-shaped instead of soft and round. This makes it difficult for blood to flow smoothly and carry oxygen to the rest of the body, which may lead to severe pain, tissue and organ damage, acute anemia and even strokes.

Blood transfusion helps sickle cell disease patients by increasing the number of normal red blood cells in the body, helping to deliver oxygen and unblock blood vessels. Patients with sickle cell disease depend on blood that must be matched very closely — beyond the A, B, O and AB blood types — to reduce the risk of complications. Some of these rare blood types are unique to specific racial and ethnic groups, and because of this, sickle cell disease patients are more likely to find a compatible blood match from a blood donor who is black.

More information about blood and diversity is available on the Red Cross website, redcross.org.

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