By: Maria Blocker & Abby Lutz
In the United States, an estimated 100,000 people have sickle cell disease, and the majority of those people are of African descent. The disease causes red blood cells to harden, which can then get caught in blood vessels and cause serious complications and severe pain.
For Reka Robinson, who lives near the Tri-Cities in Washington, exposure to sickle cell disease came at an early age. Not from personal experience, but from watching her younger cousin, Patrice, deal with the disease.
Reka can recall babysitting her younger cousin at the age of 16 and watching her deal with immense amounts of pain. Seeing that pain, and not knowing how to stop it, still weighs on Reka’s mind as an adult and gives her perspective to the importance of supporting those battling sickle cell disease.
Today, Patrice continues to courageously manage and confront sickle cell disease on daily basis. Reka describes Patrice as Sick Cell Warrior. “She’s a fighter” says Reka, adding that though she’s seen the pain Patrice deals with, she can never really know the pain.
What she can do, is help people like her cousin by donating blood. Individuals with sickle cell disease can require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lifetime to treat complications of the disease. Unfortunately, frequent transfusions can make finding compatible blood types more difficult when patients develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to the blood of the recipient.
Many individuals who are Black have distinct protein structures on their red blood cells that make their donations the most compatible blood to help patients with sickle cell disease.
In learning this, Reka signed up to donate blood with the American Red Cross, and encouraged others in the Black community to donate as well during a Facebook Live with her cousin Patrice last fall.
The Red Cross is also continuing to ask members of the Black community to join with us to help address this health disparity and meet the needs of patients with sickle cell disease.
You can help by scheduling a blood donation appointment. When you donate, your blood is tested for unique protein structures that are most compatible to help individuals with sickle cell disease. If you’re a match, the Red Cross will notify you, and your donation will be used to help sickle cell patients. Click here to learn more about sickle cell and how the Red Cross is working to support individuals dealing with it.