Roughly 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease, and more than two million have the sickle cell trait. Those with the sickle cell trait rarely have symptoms, but may pass the trait to their children. If both parents have the trait, there is a chance their children will have the disease.
Red blood cells carry oxygen to our tissues and organs. Usually these cells are round, flexible and float in our blood vessels easily. Sickle cell disease is an inherited condition where abnormal sticky, rigid red blood cells shaped like sickles or crescents get stuck in blood vessels, preventing normal blood flow.
Normal red blood cells survive for three to four months, with the body always making new red blood cells to replace the old ones. A further complication with the disease is that sickle cells only survive about 10 to 20 days, and the body may have trouble keeping up with how fast the cells are being destroyed. This can cause severe pain and swelling in joints, anemia, fatigue and extreme tiredness, jaundice, and an increased chance of infection.
Blood transfusion is one of the most critical sickle cell treatments and can lessen pain for the children and adults who live with sickle cell disease. Some sickle cell disease patients require transfusions as often as monthly – making the need for blood donations constant.
Locally Cascade Regional Blood Services provides the specific blood products needed for patients at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital. A dedicated nurse case manager ensures children with sickle cell disease get personalized care and the recommended tests and treatments they need.
“Patients are not always scheduled in advance for transfusions. Like any emergency, it’s the blood on our shelves that makes the difference,” says Richard Freed, Laboratory Operations Manager at Cascade Regional Blood Services.
Most people who have sickle cell disease are of African ancestry, but not exclusively. It’s also common in people of South American ancestry. And it can be found in people with southern European, Middle Eastern and South Asian backgrounds as well.
Since the disease is most common in individuals with African ancestry, there is an urgent need for African-American blood donors to provide blood products with the best match for these patients. If they’re able to have consistent donations of already typed donors on-hand, Cascade Regional Blood Centers will be able to have the appropriate amount of units for when a patient needs it.
“We need a diverse donor base to build up the sickle cell program as well as our antigen program,” Richard explained.
When you donate, your blood is tested for the specific antigens that are important to ensure the blood is compatible with sickle cell patients. If your blood contains those characteristics, Cascade Regional Blood Services will let you know, so you can begin helping sickle cell patients through regular donations.
Because sickle cell disease is a lifelong illness and the severity of the disease varies a lot from person to person, there are effective treatments that can reduce symptoms and prolong life. Early diagnosis and regular medical care prevent complications and contribute to improved well-being.
Over time, sickle cell disease can lead to complications such as infections, delayed growth and episodes of pain called pain crises. Most children who have sickle cell disease are pain-free between crises, but adolescents and adults may also suffer with chronic pain.
Over a lifetime, sickle cell disease can harm a patient’s organs, joints, bones and skin. A bone marrow transplant is currently the only cure for sickle cell disease, and only a small number of people who have sickle cell disease are able to have the transplant.
“We typically see two to four patients a month. One patient can use up to 11 units at a time, and patients return for treatments numerous times throughout their lives,” Richard continued.
Presently, they need a more diverse donor base to be able to continue to provide the dedicated care that the patients – most of whom are children – desperately need to survive. Donors have the option to either come into one of their three donor centers in South Sound, or to conduct blood drives in their communities on a regular basis.
“The diverse donor base and blood donations will help the patients throughout their lives. The need is constant, and the donations need to be constant as well,” says Richard.
To learn more about Cascade Regional Blood Services, call them at 253-383-2553 or visit their website. For more information about donating for sickle cell disease patients, call 1-877-24-BLOOD.