Tyler Meeks is just 15 years old and has been dealing with sickle cell disease his whole life. About 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease. Most are of African descent. The disease causes red blood cells to harden and form a C-shape (like a sickle). When hardened, the cells can get caught in blood vessels and cause serious complications for patients. These complications can include severe pain, respiratory conditions, organ failure, and even stroke.
Tyler’s mother Tanika takes him to get a blood transfusion every 4 weeks. She says he has been depending on this blood to help him with the painful side effects of living with sickle cell disease for nearly his entire life. There is no substitute for the blood transfusion, it can only be real blood given by volunteer donors that people with sickle cell disease turn to for help during a pain crisis.
Sickle Cell Disease is an inherited blood disorder that is often found at birth. According to the CDC, sickle cell causes the red blood cells in a person’s body to become C-shaped, like a sickle, instead of the normal round shape and blocks the flow of blood. The effects of this are extreme pain to the person and other severe symptoms.
People with sickle cell disease (SCD) start to have signs of the disease during the first year of life, usually around 5 months of age. Symptoms and complications of SCD are different for each person and can range from mild to severe.
The best match for an African-American child with sickle cell disease usually comes from an African-American blood donor and many patients of sickle cell can require multiple transfusions a year throughout their entire life. To minimize complications, it is best for children with sickle cell disease to receive blood that closely matches their own.
“I am so thankful for those who give blood for the sickle cell patients,” Tanika said. She knows that donors to the American Red Cross can designate their blood for sickle cell patients, something she says leaves her “always smiling.”
There is no widely used cure for sickle cell disease. However, the Red Cross supports one of the most critical sickle cell treatments of all – blood transfusions. For many patients, a close blood type match is essential and is found in donors of the same race or similar ethnicity.
Sign up to give blood at an upcoming Red Cross blood drive and make a difference to the patients in need of blood.
September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Learn more about Sickle Cell Disease here.