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Screenings Reveal if Donors Carry Sickle Cell Trait

sickle cell-donated blood-red cross-blood drive
sickle cell-donated blood-red cross-blood drive
Karleen James’ donation screening informed her that she had the sickle cell trait. Photos Courtesy of American Red Cross.

It’s often said that donated blood benefits recipients in need, but in the case of the James family, giving blood changed their lives, both the giver and the receiver.

Last December, Karleen James and her son Eugene donated blood at an American Red Cross drive in Atlanta. The event’s goal was simple: host a blood drive that would encourage diverse blood donors to give in support of patients with sickle cell disease, with the hope of encouraging participants to become lifelong blood donors. The drive mobilized many families to come together for this goal, including the James family.

After the Jameses donated blood with the Red Cross, their blood was tested in a Red Cross immunohematology-reference lab for sickle cell trait. The Red Cross now provides this screening on all blood, platelet, and plasma donations from self-identified African American donors in addition to a free mini-health screening with insights on pulse, blood pressure, and hemoglobin. When Karleen and Eugene received their blood screening results, the report showed Karleen something she wasn’t expecting: she was a carrier.

Sickle cell awareness

“I knew that Eugene carried it at birth, but I never had the idea [I did] until I got the report,” says Karleen.

Along their path of education and awareness, Karleen and her son also discovered that individuals who carry the sickle cell trait are eligible to donate plasma and platelets to help other patients in need of lifesaving blood products.

“Giving blood with the trait is very much needed in our community, and I don’t think that it is out there enough,” says Karleen. “Had we not come into the Red Cross, we would have never realized that.”

Eugene James makes his first blood donation through the Red Cross at the Jack and Jill of America in Atlanta.

It is estimated that about 1 in 13 Black people in the United States are born with the sickle cell trait, which means they have inherited the sickle cell gene from one of their parents. While carrying the sickle cell trait does not mean that an individual has sickle cell disease, many individuals are unaware they carry this trait, as sickle cell trait testing at birth was not widely provided until 2006.

Community support

Biomedical partnership officer of the American Red Cross Wendy Tabron shares why partnering with national and local organizations within the Black community is critical for helping people identify if they have the sickle cell trait and save the lives of patients with sickle cell.

“Partnerships with trusted community organizations help to ensure blood donation opportunities are reflective of the diverse communities the Red Cross serves,” says Tabron. “Working alongside partners to raise awareness about sickle cell disease and to encourage blood donations from individuals who are Black is critical to improving the overall health of communities. Sickle cell trait screening provides donors who are Black with vital health insight and helps the Red Cross identify compatible blood types more quickly to help patients with sickle cell disease. With partners helping us build new relationships and providing convenient locations that bring donation and screening opportunities closer to home, we’re able to collaboratively address health disparities associated with the disease and support families.”

As soon as Karleen and Eugene became eligible to donate blood again, they were back in the donation chair — an act of charity Eugene says he’s eager to continue doing.

“I believe these donations are going to make a positive impact in the Black community and in every community,” says Eugene. “I know that I’m doing a good deed today, and that will make me smile.”

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