Got Blood! 

Blood, the crimson liquid of light, colored the strongest shade that unites us as one, a portal to the physical dimension that fuels us all and yields the power that lets us breathe and run.  

Blood is critical to the very existence of us all, no doubt. And yet each of us has a very different reaction towards it. Part of living with sickle cell disease is that blood transfusions are frequent events. One would think we’d all become used to it and immune to any sense of queasiness or discomfort, but even when it comes to these chronic blood transfusions, I remain far from comfortable with the procedure.

I am well aware that blood transfusions have saved my life many times. Still, the process, wait, and seemingly wasted time spent attached to machines feel like forever. Blood transfusions have improved dramatically over the years, and when it comes to research and discovering significant medical advancements, it’s almost seemed like pure energy-building momentum. You cannot let it stop—you need to keep the ball rolling with more research, clinical trials, and studies that help the medical world see how they can expand treatment options and improve procedures. 

Growing up, I feared blood transfusions because of the side effects. Yet through the years, I have had to endure many, and although I still don’t like them—I am grateful. I am thankful for the continuing life such procedures have enabled me. Nonetheless, they are not without their problems. Like most medical treatments, they come with benefits and risks. For example, when a patient is given blood transfusions, it can lead to iron overload, a direct result of too many transfusions. With every transfusion, the body receives a greater amount of iron, which is released in hemoglobin when the red cells break down. Since the human body cannot naturally remove this iron, it is stored in body tissues, leading to too much iron in the system, potentially causing liver disease, diabetes, and heart problems. These and other impacts are why physicians need to monitor transfusion patients carefully. 

While there is often no replacement for a blood transfusion, a body of holistic research indicates that certain supplements and even natural foods can also help improve the blood of sickle cell patients. Folic acid is one such substance that seems promising. Certain naturally-occurring foods, including burdock root, other herbs, beets, and moringa, may also help. While each of these has been relied upon by holistic healers to improve the health of patients’ blood, you must never forget to consult with your physician before making any changes to your diet or other life choices that may potentially affect your health.  

The thing about medical advancements is that it often takes a great deal of time to get the details just right. At this point in their history, blood transfusions have come a long way! I recognize their importance and continue to find them a critical tool in maintaining my health and wellbeing during my battle with sickle cell disease. The very fact that I have been living with sickle cell for so long has led me to my interest in blood itself—and its critical importance to giving and keeping life. I’ve always found blood interesting, even just the concept and its mechanisms. It’s truly fascinating to think that we all have different overlapping blood types, and yet, our races are the one thing that shows our separation from one another, it seems. Despite the color of our skin, we all have blood. We all need that life-sustaining force that flows through our veins to ensure our very survival. 

Blood Transfusions and the Importance of Black Blood Donors

A vital part of the blood transfusion equation is the available blood supply for the procedure. Undoubtedly, blood donation helps save many lives in so many different ways. Blood donations have aided countless people worldwide in times of emergency and illness. 

The rationale for donating blood is straightforward: it helps save lives. Statistically, someone needs blood from a donor every two seconds. Because blood cannot be produced outside of the body and has a finite shelf life, it must be replaced regularly by charitable blood donors. Blood is the most precious gift that anyone can give to another person. It truly is the gift of life. And, even better, donating blood can not only save a life—but perhaps many lives. Often, donated blood is split up into red cells, platelets, and plasma—with each component utilized separately for patients with specific diseases.

 However, despite its life-saving abilities and the fact that 39% of the general population is eligible to donate blood, only 6% usually do. That’s not an excellent track record when it comes to a relatively simple action that could save fellow members of the species, humanity!

While all blood donations are extremely important in the grand scheme of things, black blood donors play a critical role in helping those facing sickle cell disease, the most common hereditary blood disease in the U.S. Sickle cell is a painful, debilitating condition that is particularly prevalent in people of African or Caribbean background. 

To receive the best treatment outcomes, patients require blood as closely matched to their own as possible. Further, it is not a one-time deal for these individuals. They may need regular blood transfusions for the rest of their lives to avoid the complications of sickle cell disease, including organ and tissue damage, extreme pain, and strokes. 

Interestingly, rare blood types are more common in some racial groupings than others. According to the Red Cross, U-negative and Duffy-negative blood types are rare. This knowledge highlights the growing need for uncommon subtypes, which are found more frequent among persons of black descent. What does this mean? It urges the need for more black blood donors. Since black patients with sickle cell disease who have these blood types can only receive blood from matching donors, finding compatible blood from a non-black donor might be considerably challenging—especially when time is of the essence.

It is proven that black Americans are more prone to sickle cell disease than others. Despite a dramatic drop in blood donations across the board, sickle cell disease patients continue to have a consistent demand for blood, making it challenging to meet their needs. 

What Makes Black Blood Donors so Crucial?

Black patients have unique antigens on their red blood cells not commonly found in other groups within the population, making it more challenging to find compatible blood for those in need of a transfusion. Antigens are specific markers (proteins) present on the surface of red blood cells that determine one’s blood type. There are more than 600 known antigens besides A and B. 

Certain African American and Hispanic/Latino patients, including those with rare blood types or medical conditions requiring multiple blood transfusions like sickle cell disease, require very closely matched blood products.

Unfortunately, there are currently insufficient blood donors to satisfy this critical demand. Although African Americans make up 13% of the population in the United States, they account for fewer than 3% of blood donors. It is becoming more important to spread the word that donating blood may help: persons with sickle cell disease, women experiencing complicated pregnancies, cancer patients, accident or trauma victims rushed to emergency departments, those being treated for inherited blood disorders, and many others. Again, one single blood donation might save more than one person’s life! Specifically, blood donors from the African American community can save the lives of other African Americans who require blood transfusions as donors with genetically identical blood are more likely to match patients of the same ethnic origin.

Unfortunately, researchers have discovered that African Americans are under-represented among blood donors and that minority donors are less likely to become frequent donors.

Negative Impact of COVID-19 on Blood Donation

As if the numbers weren’t challenging enough, the arrival of COVID-19 is negatively impacting the number of available black blood donors. Surprisingly, there has been about a 50-60% drop in blood donations during this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 health crisis. Now, there is an even greater need for the black community to participate in the campaign to increase blood donations.

Busting Myths Related to Blood Donation

  • Donating blood is exceptionally safe, and regular donors may receive long-term health advantages.
  • There is no possibility of contracting HIV through blood donation.
  • You will not gain weight by sharing your blood.
  • It is vital to stay hydrated before and after giving blood, however.
  • It improves your health by lowering the amount of extra iron in your body and encouraging your body to make replacement blood.
  • Although strenuous activity should be avoided immediately after donating blood, doing so does not affect sexual desire.
  • There is no upper age restriction on donating blood.
  • You are not necessarily ineligible to donate if you are taking medicines.
  • You can easily donate at least three times a year. 


1. Why Are African American Blood Donations Important. The American National Red Cross. [Online]

2. Why we need Black donors. NHS Blood and Transplant. [Online]

3. Why Black, Asian and minority ethnic donors are needed. NHS Blood and Transplant. [Online]

4. Need for African American and Latino/Hispanic Blood Donors. New York Blood Center (NYBC). [Online]

5. African-American Donors. OneBlood Share Your Power. [Online]

6. Cyra-Lea Drummond, BSN, RN. Red Cross Seeking Black Blood Donors for Critical Shortages. Very Well Health. [Online] September 10, 2020.

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