My first experience with something was called sickle cell disease came in the mid-1980s.
I was in grade school, and the school nurse visited my classroom. She selected students, asking us to follow her into another room. There, she delivered a brief explanation about the disease. She then gave us each a form for us to have our parents review.
That small experience made me curious about sickle cell disease. I learned it’s a painful hereditary condition that often runs in families of African-Americans.
The American Red Cross lists SCD as the most common genetic blood disease in the United States, and there is currently no cure.
The life expectancy of someone with SCD is about 42 to 47 years, according to the American Society of Hematology. Those who live with the disease depend on regular blood transfusions to manage SCD and its symptoms. As a result, blood donations are essential.
World Sickle Cell Awareness Day is scheduled for June 19. The day serves as a reminder of the need for viable blood donations.
The American Red Cross encourages donors to take part in donation events on June 19 or schedule individual appointments. The hope it is that it will start a regular practice of making donations.
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To make a donation appointment or get information on coordinating event, go to RedCrossBlood.org or call (800) 773-2767.
Blood transfusions from people of all backgrounds help the cause. It’s particularly vital that people of African descent donate. That’s because blood from people of similar race and ethnicity helps ensure the best transfusion results and fewer potential reactions, according to the Red Cross.
SCD is not something a person can “catch.” Instead, it is caused by a single anomaly in the gene that codes for hemoglobin, resulting in stiff, sticky, crescent-shaped red blood cells. These cells cause dangerous blockages, which lead to infections, tissue and organ damage, stroke and oxygen shortages in muscles. Sufferers also grapple with acute anemia, caused by the short life cycle of those sickle-shaped cells.
People of African descent account for more than 90% of the 100,000 people living with SCD. However, the Red Cross notes that SCD does affect people from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Significant progress in diagnosing and treating SCD has improved the quality of life of patients, but incidence of the disease is nonetheless on the rise in adults, according to the American Society of Hematology.
Life is tough for SCD sufferers and their caregivers, due to pain, stigma, access to care, mental health toll and many other factors. Managing the disease also is costly, often resulting in frequent, prolonged inpatient stays and increased emergency room visits, notes an article in Expert Review in Hematology.
The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America offers more information about the health care, advocacy and Sickle Cell Awareness Day at SickleCellDisease.org.