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For Patients With Sickle Cell Disease, Blood Donors Are a Matter of Life and Death

In June, World Blood Donor Day and Sickle Cell Awareness Day Bring to Light the Need for More Donors

Los Angeles - June 16, 2014 – Every six weeks for the past nine years, Mawasi Belle has been donating blood at Cedars-Sinai’s Blood Donor Services, totaling nearly 80 trips to the medical institution and thousands of pints of blood collected. But for Belle, this selfless act is merely a part of her lifestyle. "My decision to give is easy. If I do not donate, patients with serious blood diseases, like sickle cell anemia, will die."

And Belle is right: Patients with sickle cell disease and other serious blood conditions rely on donors to keep their blood flowing and hearts beating.

Normal red blood cells are disc-shaped and move with ease throughout the body. But patients with sickle cell disease have stiff, sticky red blood cells shaped like crescents that do not easily flow to vital limbs and organs. The American Red Cross estimates that more than 80,000 people are affected in the United States with this inherited, incurable disease. Patients with sickle cell anemia get regular blood transfusions to ensure red blood cells flow smoothly throughout the body.

Belle became a member of the Cedars-Sinai "blood buddy" program, an initiative designed to support patients with blood disorders who depend on monthly blood transfusions. In addition to being a match by blood type, blood buddies have unique characteristics, like antigens, that are specific to some of the most vulnerable patients.

"The blood buddy system was created to gap an unmet need in our community," said Ellen Klapper, MD, director of the Transfusion Medicine Division and a clinical professor in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. "Not only do these donors save lives, they also advocate on our behalf, influencing their own families, friends and community members. Our staff and our patients rely heavily on the gracious contributions of these donors, both by their gift of life and gift of advocacy."

Whether someone is interested in making a one-time blood donation or becoming a blood buddy, donations are always needed. Both World Blood Donor Day and Sickle Cell Awareness Day occur in June and help highlight the national need for more donors.

"Many people cannot give money or time, but everyone should support one service to help others," Belle said. "Blood is truly the gift of life and I am happy to give because I can give."

To schedule an appointment to donate blood or learn more about becoming a Cedars-Sinai blood buddy, please call 310-423-5346, visit cedars-sinai.edu/donateblood or email blooddonorservices@cshs.org.

Quick facts from the American Red Cross about the U.S. blood supply:

  • The average red blood cell transfusion is approximately three pints.
  • A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.
  • More than 1 million new people are diagnosed with cancer each year. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during chemotherapy.
  • Sickle cell disease affects more than 80,000 people in the U.S. Sickle cell patients can require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lives.
  • A total of 30 million blood components are transfused each year in the U.S.
  • The nation’s blood banks need 38,000 blood donations every day to meet the need.
  • Less than 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to give blood.
  • Type O-negative blood (red cells) can be transfused to patients of all blood types. It is always in great demand and often in short supply.
  • Type AB plasma can be transfused to patients of all other blood types. AB plasma also is usually in short supply.