By DR. DAVID HEDRICK
Have you ever considered donating blood?
If you are of African descent, your blood donations could help save the lives of the more than 1,500 people in Indiana living with sickle cell disease.
Healthy blood cells are round and pass through blood vessels easily. The blood cells of someone with sickle cell disease can become misshapen and get stuck in their blood vessels. This causes the blood to back up in the body, creating pain and leading to organ failure if not treated properly.
Many people who suffer from this life-threatening condition rely on blood transfusions for treatment, but the blood supply is often critically low. Not only that, but in the United States, less than 0.5% of donated blood comes from Black Americans, yet most people with sickle cell disease are of African descent.
It is extremely important for patients to receive blood that matches their own. The letter type of the blood is important, but matching antigens is also critical. Antigens are markers in the blood that make each blood type unique to the person. If the donor is of the same ethnic background as the patient, their antigens are more likely to match and will likely work better with the patient’s blood.
If someone receives blood from a donor with antigens from a different ethnic background, the body might see the blood as an invader it needs to fight off — causing further health problems for the patient.
For this reason, receiving the right blood for a blood transfusion can be a lifesaver for someone with sickle cell disease. As well, the blood you donate today improves our diverse blood supply so that when anyone needs a transfusion, for any reason, they are more likely to get the best blood then can.
How can you help by donating blood?
Versiti Blood Center of Indiana is the best place to start. Visit versiti.org/ways-to-give for a list of locations where you can donate blood and for more information about becoming a blood donor.
Dr. David Hedrick is an adult hematologist-oncologist with the Indiana Hemophilia & Thrombosis Center in Indianapolis (ihtc.org). Dr. Hedrick treats patients with sickle cell disease — as well other bleeding and blood disorders — helping empower them to live a full life while managing their chronic condition.