September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month – a month dedicated to bringing awareness to an incurable disease that affects approx. 4,500 South Carolinians and 100,000 Americans.
Last week I (Lauren here) spoke to Brenda Green, Founder and CEO of The B Strong Group, and Maya Franklin, an external communications manager for the American Red Cross, about Sickle Cell Awareness Month and the disease itself.
“Very, very challenging and very life altering,” was Brenda’s response when I asked her to describe Sickle Cell Disease. While she isn’t a patient herself, her youngest child, Braden, was diagnosed with sickle cell disease as a newborn. The learning curve of caring for a child with sickle cell disease and the lack of a cure that’s safe for all patients inspired Brenda to start The B Strong Group, a local nonprofit that’s actively working in our community to raise awareness of the disease.
According to Maya and Brenda, blood transfusions are the best treatment for sickle cell disease. In 2015, Braden received a transfusion that saved his life while he was hospitalized with acute chest syndrome, a condition caused by blood sickling in the lungs. The transfusion was able to give Braden’s body time to recover + relieve some of his pain.
So, what is sickle cell disease; what makes it so painful? Simply put, it’s the presence of sickle, or crescent, shaped red blood cells. The abnormal shape hinders the affected cells’ ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, African American blood donations have dropped by over half, causing the American Red Cross’ critical need for African American blood. As Maya explained to me, different ethnicities carry different sets of antigens in their blood. This means that most compatible blood matches come from the same race or ethnicity of the patient.
The best way to help: donate blood (and donate regularly). This Saturday, Sept. 19, The B Strong Group is hosting a blood drive in honor of sickle cell warriors (as Brenda rightfully calls them). The drive will take place from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. at 2751 Bull St. Help the team reach their goal of 50 donations + register for the event here.
Unsure about donating blood or the changes COVID has caused? Check out our conversation with the American Red Cross for all of the need-to-know details.