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 tied to Sickle Cell Awareness Month 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 discovery of the disease 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.

A closer blood match leads to better outcomes. Many patients with sickle cell disease will require regular blood transfusions to help manage their disease. Unfortunately, these patients may develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to their own. Many Blacks have distinct markers on their red blood cells which 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 take action today by scheduling a blood donation appointment at RedCrossBlood.org; by downloading the Blood Donor App; or by calling (800) RED CROSS.

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

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 Joanne Nowlin, CEO of American Red Cross Los Angeles. “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.”

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, Passion 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 that generous 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,” Passion said. “His breathing improves; his blood levels improve. It’s like his body wakes up.”

Nationally, the Red Cross is thrilled to announce new partnerships with preeminent organizations like the NAACP and 100 Black Men of America, Inc. to raise awareness about sickle cell disease as a persisting and heartbreaking health disparity, and to help patients with sickle cell disease by encouraging blood donations.

Upcoming blood donation opportunities in Los Angeles include:

• 9/23/2021: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., YMCA, 8015 S. Sepulveda Blvd.

• 9/24/2021: 12 p.m. – 6 p.m., Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, 2009 W. Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.

• 9/27/2021: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Weingart YMCA Wellness and Aquatic Center, 9900 S. Vermont Ave.

• 9/27/2021: 11:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., Los Angeles Police Department Olympic Division, 1130 S. Vermont Ave.

• 9/28/2021: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Building 6080, 6080 Center Dr.

• 9/30/2021: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., California State University Los Angeles Lot 4, 5151 State University Dr.

• 9/30/2021: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., YMCA, 8015 S. Sepulveda Blvd.