Sickle Cell

By Torkwase Holmes Stem Cell coordinator/Events and Out Reach Officer NHSBT

Sickle cell disorders are a group of illnesses that affect your red blood cells. Sickle cell is a genetic condition, which means it’s passed on from your parents, and you are born with it; you cannot catch it from other people. Sickle cell disorders cause your ordinarily round and flexible blood cells to become stiff and sickle-shaped, stopping the blood cells and the oxygen they carry from moving freely around the body and causing pain. This can cause episodes of severe pain. These painful episodes are referred to as sickle cell crises and treated with strong painkillers such as morphine to control the pain.

Sickle cell disorder and blood donation come hand in hand.

1 in 76 babies born in the UK carry sickle cell trait

Approximately 15,000 people in the UK have sickle cell disorder.

Approximately 270 babies with SCD are born in the UK every year.

Many with sickle cell require blood transfusions or exchange 2 or 3 times a month, similar to those who suffer from Thalassemia. Some need up to 3-4 pints a time. We only give one pint. Each time they receive a transfusion, if it is not coming from their ethnic background, it can cause antibodies within their blood and be detrimental to them. If a sickle warrior has a crisis, they are also at risk of complications, stroke, acute chest syndrome, blindness, bone damage, and more so every donation helps.

till, over time, the antibodies can build up, so we need more people from the Black community to give blood to reduce this risk.

There is an increased demand for some rare subtypes, such as Ro, that are more common in black heritage subtypes when someone has regular transfusions as they need blood that matches their own as closely as possible. We need people from all communities to give blood to make sure there’s the right blood available for everyone. The NHS needs black donors to continue to provide life-saving blood transfusions to sickle cell patients. Ethnically matched blood is better for people who receive regular transfusions. Each time we donate, we save three people’s lives.

I aim to try and change the mindset of black people who won’t and don’t give blood? You can’t force someone to do something they don’t want too, but you can plant that seed, which gets them thinking. We need to start educating from a younger age, like in schools and colleges. Talking about the sickle cell with your friends and family, if we don’t help ourselves, who’s going to help us.

We are also calling on fit young men in general as they have fewer antibodies and epically those from the African Caribbean community.

We know that patients are living longer and need more blood. Suppose we, as a community, continue to ignore the call for blood donation. In that case, many sickle warriors who are not getting the correct blood type face excruciating pain, and some may even die.

For years ACLT (African, Caribbean Leukaemia Trust) and the Sickle Cell Society have been campaigning for more black people to become blood, organ, and stem cell donors. It is not just the brutality on the streets we are facing. Many are dying due to not finding a match for a transplant, and those fighting Sickle Cell are not receiving the right blood type, which needs to come from their ethnic background for them to have a better quality of life.

Photo credit: Jermaine Ulinwa

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