MEDIC Regional Blood Center

Shining a Light on Sickle Cell Disease in East Tennessee

More than 100,000 Americans have sickle cell disease. Patients with sickle cell often need blood transfusions, and these transfusions are a lifeline for them. Unfortunately, when it comes to donating blood, minority donors are under-represented and are less likely to become regular donors. For example, statistics show that African American individuals make up 13% of the population, but only 3% donate blood.

Sickle Cell Disease causes the red blood cells to be hard and crescent-shaped (like a sickle) instead of soft and round. This texture and shape cause difficulty for blood to flow smoothly and carry adequate oxygen to the rest of the body. This issue can cause severe pain, stroke, and organ damage. Blood transfusions help relieve pain during a crisis and prevent other complications by increasing the number of healthy red blood cells in the body. These healthy cells help deliver oxygen throughout the body and unlock blood vessels.

Donated blood is the only source for this treatment. Because 1 in 3 African Americans is a match for a sickle cell patient, diversifying the donor base is especially important for our region. MEDIC has provided blood products for 25 sickle cell patients in our area in recent history. However, due to patients potentially needing ongoing transfusions and because donors have a specific deferral period, MEDIC needs to increase its African American donor base.