NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — As Sickle Cell Awareness Month comes to a close, 10 On Your Side’s two-part series explains the disease and what can be done to help people living with it.
Local advocates say they’ve renewed their push for blood from Black donors over the last year and a half, as donations plunged during the pandemic.
“You could save a life,” said Judy Anderson, executive director of the Sickle Cell Association in Norfolk. “These [patients] are in critical need of it and this is a critical time.”
Anderson has spent decades working on behalf of people living with sickle cell disease.
“Sickle cell patients have blood transfusions in excess of every 3-4 weeks,” she said. “They need a supply of blood that totally matches their supply, otherwise the body is still going to be in pain and the organs will not get sufficient blood.”
Blood from African American donors is more likely to have a unique antigen that can help in sickle cell treatment, but Anderson said those donations are harder to get.
Only 4% of blood donations received are from Black donors, according the American Red Cross.
“A number of African Americans have so many health issues and the lower iron content that they are unable to donate,” Anderson said.
Add to that a pandemic, and blood donations from the African American community dropped even lower beginning last year.
Anderson realized the situation was dire when she heard about a sickle cell patient in Hampton Roads who waited two days in the emergency room for blood to arrive.
She and the Virginia American Red Cross Coastal Chapter worked together to increase outreach in the Black community.
“We started contacting churches in the community, civic and social organizations,” she said. “The blood supply was coming in, not at a great rate, but it was better than what we were doing before, where we didn’t have those donors coming in.”
She also walked her talk.
“I’m over a gallon donor myself, so I don’t ask other persons to do things that I can’t do,” Anderson said. “Give. Give blood. We critically need it.”
To find somewhere to donate blood, visit redcrossblood.org.