Local Sickle Cell Expert Raises Awareness on Importance of Diverse Blood Supply

Sickle Cell Disease is a term that many have heard before but do not know much about. Did you know it is the most inherited blood disease in the United States? 

According to a guide published by America’s Blood Centers (ABC) and ADRP, Sickle Cell Disease affects around 100,000 Americans. 

Sickle Cell Disease is a disorder that causes the red blood cells to become misshapen to look like a sickle or crescent moon. 

Rhode Island Blood Center (RIBC) recently spoke with Doctor Patrick McGann who is the Director of the Pediatric and Adult Sickle Cell and Hemoglobinopathy Program at Rhode Island and Hasbro Children’s Hospitals about this disease. Doctor McGann notes that those suffering from this disease often have chronic anemia as the red cells do not live as long due to the abnormal shapes. 

“This can result in serious or life-threatening complications. It can also be painful when talking about a sickle cell crisis.”

One of the few proven treatments to help sickle cell patients, especially when they are facing a crisis, is a blood transfusion. Doctor McGann tells RIBC that most sickle cell patients will need blood in their life. Most of those transfusions will often by lifesaving. He has seen this firsthand. 

“There are patients who are having serious life-threatening events, who without blood in the moment would have had progression of their disease. They are facing serious damage to their organs like the lungs and heart. Blood has been a life saver.”

Doctor McGann tells us that right now there are roughly 300 patients in Rhode Island being treated for Sickle Cell Disease. While there are some medications to help with the treatment, blood remains a key factor in ensuring success stories for sickle cell patients. 

“Some patients will see chronic blood transfusions, meaning they get blood transfused every month to prevent life-threatening complications like stroke or pulmonary complications.”

He also notes that every time a patient receives a blood transfusion there is a slight risk of a mismatch or reaction that could complicate treatment. However, by having a diverse donor pool, we can help alleviate some of that risk.

According to ADRP/BCA, 19.5% of blood donations come from racially diverse donors. Doctor McGann stresses that while race and ethnicity are not biological properties, they will often prove to help find a better match to help patients in need of blood.

“Just like a car accident is unpredictable so too are the complications from sickle cell. Thanks to blood donors, it’s a rare situation that we are not able to find blood for a patient. We never want to get in that situation where we can’t help them.”

One in three African American donors are a match for a patient with Sickle Cell Disease according to reporting from ABC/ADRP. Doctor McGann, who is a blood donor himself, has a simple message to those considering donating.

“It takes under an hour and it’s painless and simple and a slight inconvenience to your day. Patients really rely on the donors to have stepped up so that the blood is available to them.”

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