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Black blood donors sought for sickle cell patients

Posted on September 15, 2021

Local news
Demarus Torrence, pictured at left with his mother, Passion Terrell, recently organized an American Red Cross blood drive at his school. The 17-year-old has sickle cell disease. He and other patients rely on African American blood donors to provide life-sustaining transfusions. The Red Cross says many Black donors have distinct markers on their red blood cells that make their donations ideal for helping sickle cell patients.

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Demarus Torrence, pictured at left with his mother, Passion Terrell, recently organized an American Red Cross blood drive at his school. The 17-year-old has sickle cell disease. He and other patients rely on African American blood donors to provide life-sustaining transfusions. The Red Cross says many Black donors have distinct markers on their red blood cells that make their donations ideal for helping sickle cell patients.

When patients living with sickle cell disease face a sickle cell crisis, blood transfusions can make a lifesaving difference.

That’s why the American Red Cross has launched an initiative to grow the number of blood donors who are Black to help patients with sickle cell disease, an enduring and often invisible health disparity in the U.S.

More than 100,000 people in the U.S. have sickle cell disease, the most common inherited blood disorder, and the majority of patients are of African descent. Despite the disease’s discovery more than a century ago, there have been fewer health resources available to help those currently suffering from sickle cell crisis in comparison to similar diseases. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people with sickle cell disease experience worse health outcomes than comparable diseases.

Many patients with sickle cell disease will require regular blood transfusions to help manage their disease. These patients may develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to their own. 

Many individuals who are Black have distinct markers on their red blood cells that make their donations ideal for helping patients with sickle cell disease. More than half of blood donors who are Black have blood that is free of C, E and K antigens — making them the best match for those with sickle cell disease.

The Red Cross asks members of the Black community to join in helping to address this health disparity and meet the needs of patients with sickle cell disease. Donors can schedule a blood donation appointment at RedCrossBlood.org, by downloading the Blood Donor app or by calling 1-800-RED CROSS. 

To help tackle the need for blood in September — Sickle Cell Awareness Month — all donors who come to give with the Red Cross from Sept. 13-30 will receive a limited-edition football-themed T-shirt, while supplies last. 

LIFE-THREATENING COMPLICATIONS

Sickle cell disease distorts soft, round blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped, which can cause extreme pain. When hardened, the cells can get caught in blood vessels, potentially leading to stroke and organ failure.

“Transfusions provide healthy blood cells, unblocking blood vessels and delivering oxygen,” said Dr. Corinne Goldberg, medical director for the American Red Cross Carolinas and South Carolina Region. “By increasing the amount of closely matched blood products, the Red Cross is able to help ensure the right blood product is available at the right time for patients facing a sickle cell crisis — minimizing complications for those with rare blood types fighting sickle cell disease.”

EVERY TRANSFUSION COUNTS

Seventeen-year-old Demarus Torrence loves comics and sci-fi movies, and he balances his work in high school while living with sickle cell disease. He endures monthly blood transfusions, and, at times, regular hospital stays to help with extreme pain and other complications.

“Just imagine someone hitting your back with a hammer, constantly, and it just won’t stop,” said Demarus’ mother, Passion Terrell. “(Demarus) describes it, and you can picture it, but you really can’t.”

Demarus is the only person in his immediate family with the disease, though testing has revealed other family members carry the sickle cell trait. As a mother, Terrell has made it her mission to care for her beloved son and to inspire others to give blood — especially individuals who are Black and people who have never donated.

The family hosted a Red Cross blood drive at Demarus’ school this month to highlight the fact that blood donations can mean a world of difference to people like him.

“It’s amazing – once he gets that blood in him, it’s like a different person,” Terrell said. “His breathing improves; his blood levels improve. It’s like his body wakes up.”

Blood donation opportunities are available at the following locations:

WILSON

• Sept. 15 — 2-6 p.m., First Christian Church, 207 Tarboro St. NE.

• Sept. 16 — 3-7 p.m., Connect Church, 4865 Nash St. W.

• Sept. 21 — 3-7 p.m., Farmington Heights Church of God, 910 Raleigh Road NW.

• Sept. 29 — 1-7 p.m.,Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, 2615 Tilghman Road.

• Sept. 30 —  8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., James B. Hunt High School, 4559 Lamm Road.

SPRING HOPE

• Sept. 23 — 1:30-7 p.m., Ephesus Baptist Church, 7300 W. Old Spring Hope Road.

ROCKY MOUNT

• Sept. 20 — 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., N.C. Wesleyan College, 3400 N. Wesleyan Blvd.

• Sept. 20 — 2-6 p.m., West Edgecombe Ruritan Club, 402 Ruritan Lane (off N.C. 43 North).

• Sept. 26 — 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., Word Tabernacle Church, 821 Word Plaza.

• Sept. 28 — 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., The Imperial Centre, 207 Gay St.

• Sept. 29 — 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Golden East Crossing Mall, 1100 N. Wesleyan Blvd.

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