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Over 100 years ago, the American Red Cross came to the aid of survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre. A century later, they’ve launched a blood drive initiative aimed at combating the health disparity for the mostly Black patients who live with sickle cell disease (SCD).
To that end, the Red Cross has organized local blood drives across the country targeted in Black neighborhoods.
Considering patients with sickle cell require specific types of blood from someone whose blood closely matches their own, the goal is to vastly increase blood supplies from Black donors with fewer complications.
In Tulsa, the Red Cross is working with local organizations to give Black residents the opportunity to help their neighbors.
The Langston-Tulsa campus will host a blood drive on Monday, February 28th, from 2:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. inside classrooms 207 and 208 of the campus.
You can visit RedCrossBlood.org and enter LANGSTONTULSA to schedule an appointment.
Matt Trotter is the regional communications director for the American Red Cross Kansas-Oklahoma region.
Speaking with The Black Wall Street Times, he detailed how before launching the nationwide initiative, Black people represented only 4% of blood donors nationwide, making the need for more Black blood crucial.
“It’s more of a challenge to get blood products for patients with sickle cell than a lot of people might realize,” Trotter told TheBWSTimes.
Sickle cell in the Black community
He said there are 600 known antigens for red blood cells. Some of those are specific and unique to different ethnic and racial groups.
And with sickle cell mostly affecting Black people, the Red Cross needs blood donations from people of similar backgrounds “to make sure we can match their blood type close enough that their treatments are more successful and hopefully complication-free,” Trotter said.
It may seem counterintuitive to offer blood freely in a country that has already drained so much of it from Black people. Yet, by giving blood to the Red Cross, Black Americans have an opportunity to help save the lives of their most marginalized kinfolk.
Nationally, one in 13 Black Americans are carriers of the sickle cell trait, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
To date, there remains less funding for research devoted to the disease. There’s also less treatment options for SCD than for other diseases that primarily affect White people. Worst of all, according to the CDC, the life expectancy for people living with the most severe form of SCD remains 30 years less than the life expectancy of those without the disease.
Triumph over trauma
Previously, The Black Wall Street Times shared the story of the Guillory family, who endured incredible hardships when one of their twin sons was diagnosed with the most severe form. He needed a bone marrow transplant.
“I decided I wasn’t going to allow this to be the end,” Shea Guillory said, becoming her son’s main advocate. Shea, her husband, and two sons eventually became closer after the successful procedure. Yet, not everyone diagnosed with the disease is so lucky.
Today, there are several more options for sickle cell patients than there were just 20 years ago, including gene-editing therapy. Adding to that, the Red Cross aims to vastly increase the available blood for these patients. Yet, the lack of interest in finding more treatments has changed only in recent years. It’s caused some in the community to point blame at the Federal Drug Administration.
Velvet Brown-Watts is the executive director of Supporters of Families with Sickle Cell Disease. It’s an Oklahoma support group based in Tulsa.
“I’m excited about all the new different therapies coming down the pipeline because now it does give patients living with sickle cell options,” Brown-Watts told TheBWSTimes.
Becoming our own heroes through blood donations
For decades, the only FDA-approved treatment for sickle cell disease, which affects roughly 100,000 Americans and 1 in every 365 African American births, was a repurposed cancer drug called Hydroxyurea.
“When you look at diabetes and cancer, they had how many option?” Brown-Watts said. “And at the time, sickle cell only had one. And it wasn’t even a drug for sickle cell.”
Despite the new options for the community, sickle cell patients still crucially require blood transfusions. It’s something the American Red Cross is keenly aware of as they continue their national initiative.
Sickle cell can affect people from any background, but it is most prevalent in people of African descent.
“And because we already have such low numbers of blood donors who are Black, the products that we need to treat most of the people who have sickle cell are hard to find,” Trotter said.
For the Tulsa-Langston blood drive, walk-ins are welcome, but appointments are preferred, Trotter added.
To schedule an appointment for the blood drive on Monday, Feb. 28, visit RedCrossBlood.org and enter LANGSTONTULSA.