Red Cross: Black blood matters for some with sickle cell anemia


PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The American Red Cross is issuing an urgent call.

More minority blood donations are needed to help save the lives of people who suffer from sickle cell anemia. When a sickle cell patient is in crisis, often a blood transfusion is needed to ease the pain. Not just any donation is needed; a donation from a person of color makes a difference.

“Our [African American] blood is most closely aligned with the sickle cell disease itself and that’s why diverse blood matters so much,” said Michelle Ellis Young, executive director of the Coastal Virginia Red Cross.

Minority donations have plummeted during the pandemic as the Red Cross is dealing with another problem: the blood of many minority donors is rejected.

The effects of poor nutrition could be to blame. Finger prick tests of minority donors often reveal a serum iron level below the minimum of 12.5.

“What we have is a high rate of referrals in our African-American community because our iron counts tend to be a little lower,” said Ellis Young, who is also sounding the alarm about poor nutrition.

“This COVID pandemic has gotten the attention of a lot of people — we are a captive audience — you have to eat right,” responded David Jemmott, who is 65 years old.

David Jemmott in his family garden (Photo courtesy: David Jemmott)

The Jemmott family of Chesapeake got to work this summer and planted a massive produce garden in their back yard.

“I have a lot of vegetables that we have been eating from on the other had it has saved us a lot of money, said Jemmott. He hopes other minorities will follow his lead and plant tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, eggplant, herbs, and other nutrition-packed items in their yards or in pots.  

Ellis Young says do-it-yourself gardening could make a difference, as many minorities live in food desserts: neighborhoods without nearby grocery stores that sell fresh meats, vegetables, and fruits.

David Jemmott in his family garden (Photo courtesy: David Jemmott)

“The more that people can eat healthy and have access to healthier nutrition, the better it is for the body and for bodies in the communities,” said Ellis Young.

If you are interested in hosting a blood drive, contact Michelle Ellis Young at 757-323-4791.

For information on scheduled blood drives across Hampton Roads see

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