Red Cross holds special blood drive in the Quad Cities to raise awareness about Sickle Cell

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Moline, IL (KWQC) - Only 2-3% of national blood donors are from diverse backgrounds according to the Red Cross. And that's one of the reasons the organization held a special blood drive in the Quad Cities. They also wanted to raise awareness about sickle cell anemia also known as sickle cell disease. Brandy Donaldson lost her cousin Tasheba to the diseases and is grateful for any efforts to raise awareness.
"We were all very close as cousins so having your cousin is more like having a sibling," says Brandy Donaldson.
Tasheba "probably spent more than a third of her life in a hospital room as opposed to being home and that's because of sickle cell anemia," Brandy told KWQC.
Red blood cells are usually round and disc-shaped. But in Sickle cells they become crescent or sickle-shaped. One of the main jobs of red blood cells is to carry oxygen through the body. In people with sickle cell they don't have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen through the body. And the rigid sticky sickle cells can get stuck in small vessels.
"She couldn't do a lot of the things we young people could do. she was weak a lot so she couldn't run and play and do a lot of the things we could. there were times when she was well but when she was not well it really did take a lot of our her. also, her immune system was affected," says Donaldson.
There currently isn't a cure for sickle cell. But chronic transfusions can be a life-saving treatment option. Brandy recalls hearing about her cousin needing blood transfusions. And at 22 years old, Tasheba lost her battle with sickle cell. The blood disorder affects 8% of African Americans. And it can also affect people from the Caribbean, Central American, South American, South Asians, Caucasians from Southern Europe and the Middle East.
Some patients with sickle cell develop an unwanted immune response from the frequent blood transfusions called alloimmunization unless phenotypes based on the genetic background are closely matched.
therefore the best donor match for a sickle cell patient is more likely to come from a donor of the same ethnic group.
"We see only two to three percent of diverse groups that donate so those donations," says Gwen Bartoluzzi of the American Red Cross Quad Cities.
And that's why the Red Cross is calling for more diverse donors.
"The patients that have sickle cell are always going to need these blood products," says Bartoluzzi.
Brandy says this means the world to her.
"Organizations like the red cross who come into a community and say we want to build awareness around a little-known disease and we want to make sure that people who suffer from this disease have the same opportunities to receive care as anyone suffering from any other disease. that's pretty amazing," says Donaldson.
The next two blood drives in the Quad Cities will be taking place at the Moline Hy-Vee on March 11th and the Red Cross Quad Cities on April 24th.