Sickle cell anemia is the most common inherited disease in people of African heritage. It affects one of every 400 African American newborns. This disease causes red blood cells to stiffen and twist into jagged shapes, blocking blood vessels and preventing normal blood flow. This leads to pain, anemia and damage to vital tissues and organs.
Without proper treatment, one in 10 children with sickle cell anemia may suffer a stroke before age 20. Most will suffer a second stroke within three years.
Today, only regular blood transfusion therapy can prevent stroke in high-risk children with sickle cell anemia. In fact, 70 to 80 percent of all patients with sickle cell disease will have at least one transfusion by the age of 20.
Transfusions make it possible to maintain a relatively low level of abnormal (sickle) blood and a protective level of normal blood. To accomplish this, transfusions or exchange treatments must be given frequently, as often as every four weeks. This means that children with sickle cell anemia depend on the generosity of healthy volunteer blood donors.
Over time, children with sickle cell anemia may develop allergic-like reactions to the red blood cells of donors, and it becomes increasingly difficult to find red blood cells for their transfusions. Children with sickle cell anemia are less likely to suffer these adverse reactions to blood from donors of African heritage, but blood is needed from donors of all backgrounds.
How to help
A supply of healthy blood is vital to stroke prevention and medical treatment of children with sickle cell anemia. Ironically, people of African heritage are underrepresented in the donor pool. But it doesn't have to be this way:
- Ask friends, family members and neighbors of African heritage to consider becoming volunteer blood donors.
- Arrange a gathering at your place of worship...
- Organize a blood drive in your community. We will help!