Red Cross: Blood donations needed to combat sickle cell disease

While Wednesday is Juneteenth, it is also World Sickle Cell Awareness Day – another important topic for people of African descent.

People living with this blood disorder rely on frequent transfusions, and that means they need donors to step forward.

"I really don’t think people understand the pain that we go through. The pain that we go through is very sharp. It can be very intense, and it can happen at a moment's notice," said Maurice Dortch, a sickle cell patient. "When I was in the hospital, I would stay there two to three weeks at a time. It was very difficult because all I wanted was a normal life."

And with frequent blood transfusions, Dortch has been able to lead a more normal life. 

"Due to the fact that I have these monthly blood transfusions, I haven’t been hospitalized in the last two years," he said. "Something is working when you donate blood to the Red Cross."

That is why blood drives, like the one held in Detroit on Wednesday, are so important.

"A lot of patients suffer this pain, and you can’t see (their) pain," said a sickle cell account manager with the American Red Cross of Michigan, Deandra Smith.

About one in 13 Black or African American babies are born with the sickle cell trait, which means they carry the gene for the disorder but may not have the disease, according to the National Institutes of Health. 

"One in three African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell disease," according to the Red Cross. "Having a diverse blood supply is one way to help ensure patients have ongoing access to compatible blood to help avoid serious complications."

While sickle cell is most prevalent in people with Sub-Saharan African ancestry, many people who come from Hispanic, Southern European, Middle Eastern, or Asian Indian backgrounds may also have sickle cell disease.

"When you have a blood disorder like sickle cell, and you're constantly being transfused, the more and more you get transfused the more likely you’re going to have transfusion related complications," Smith said. "We need all donors. We need all races to come out and donate blood."

While researchers search for better solutions, the answer to a healthier life for patients like Dortch depends on blood donations.

"About 20,000 fewer blood donations were collected over the past month than needed to protect the Red Cross national blood supply," according to the Red Cross. "Severe weather and record-breaking travel are expected to continue throughout summer, potentially further impacting the ability of donors to give. When fewer people donate, blood products can start to disappear from hospital shelves, but patients counting on lifesaving transfusions have no time to wait. Find a blood drive in your neighborhood at"