About 100,000 people in the U.S., most of whom are of African descent, are living with sickle cell disease (SCD) – the most common inherited blood disorder in the country. Of the 100,000 individuals with SCD, 10,000 are in Georgia.
Sickle cell disease causes red blood cells to be sticky, hard, and cresblood cent-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. Red blood cells carry markers on their surface called antigens that determine blood type. Some 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.
As part of its celebration of Black History Month, Red Cross encourages the public to learn about SCD by joining a Microsoft Teams Sickle Cell Disease Virtual Forum on Thursday, February 11 at 7:00 p.m. The featured speaker is Dr. James Eckman, Emory Emeritus Professor of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Panelists are Dr. Baia Lasky, American Red Cross Medical Director, and Tierney Bell, Life Scientist MPH and Sickle Cell patient.
The Forum will honor Dr. Charles Drew, African American surgeon, scientist and educator, and the father of modern blood banking. Also honored will be Milford Greene, Ph.D., MPH, with the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia.
Red Cross is partnering with HBCU (Historically Black Colleges & Universities), to extend a challenge to students, faculty, staff, and alumni to learn about SCD and to donate blood to support individuals living with this serious disease. Savannah State University, based in Savannah, is leading the way with a push to their community and with a blood drive in honor of Jay Gandis, a 13-yearold boy who has Sickle Cell Disease.
Shavonne Gandis, Jay’s mother, says, “Having Sickle Cell is a disadvantage in life. Jay takes 8 pills a day, gets shots, blood draws, transfusions, and has nonstop doctor’s visits. He requires prior approval for the simplest things in life. When he’s in a pain crisis, it’s around-the-clock medicine. If that doesn’t work, it’s off to the hospital.” According to Jay, “Sometimes the pain is so bad I go to sleep so I don’t feel it. But there are good days too. I get to go Sickle Cell Camp and go to special places and meet people that I would not have met if I didn’t have Sickle Cell.”
Sickle Cell Disease begins in infancy and lasts throughout a lifetime. It affects 1 in 365 African American births and the trait is carried by 1 in 12 African American people. Blood transfusions are critical for treatment of acute crises, and for the prevention of stroke and other consequences of the disease. According to Savannah State University Interim President, Kimberly Ballard-Washington, “Our HBCU’s are in a unique position to change the trajectory of this health crisis as it related to our blood supply for Sickle Cell patients. By engaging our students, faculty, staff, and alumni, we have significant audiences to tap into. We have an excellent opportunity educate people, and hopefully, motivate them to donate blood to help those living with this disease. Savannah State is proud to be part of this community effort along with Red Cross of Georgia.”
Donors are encouraged to donate blood to the American Red Cross on Thursday, February 18 from 12:00 p.m.to 5:00 p.m. at the Ballrooms in the Student Union of Savannah State University. All blood donations will be tested for Covid-19 antibodies and results will be available through the Red Cross App and RedCrossBlood.org in 7-10 days. To make an appointment to donate blood, visit RedCrossBlood.org and enter SAVState under Sponsor Code.
Masks are required on the campus of Savannah State University and individuals must present an ID at the gate as they enter the campus.