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African American blood donors needed to help sickle cell patients

Many blood donation drives were canceled because of the the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving a huge gap in the normal blood supply.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The American Red Cross is in need of African American blood donors to help people living with sickle cell disease. 

Since the coronavirus pandemic began the organization has struggled to get donations from diverse populations. Jay Bonafede, the communications director for the Western New York region, says the blood drives which would normally help with the supply were canceled because of the pandemic. 

"One of the biggest things we like to tell people is that emergencies don’t stop during this pandemic," Bonafede said.

Sickle cell disease is a hereditary disorder that causes the red blood cells in the body to take on a crescent shape. This makes it easier for the cells to clot and cause pain crises. 

Blood transfusions are common treatments for these painful episodes. Bonafede told 2 On Your Side that the antigens that make up cells are sometimes specific to certain racial and ethnic groups. Blood donations from individuals from the same background can help prevent potential complications. 

"Some of the blood types, specifically for sickle cell as an example, some of the needs have to be matched a little bit more directly than the typical A, B, and O blood types that we do," Bonafede said.

It's something Juanita McClain understands. McClain has sickle cell and has worked in the community for years to bring more awareness to the illness she's lived with all her life. 

She told 2 On Your Side that transfusions were a regular treatment for her growing up and she occasionally still gets them. The transfusions help with the pain she says sometimes is unbearable. 

"It’s a pain that is indescribable and it often takes over your body, your mind," McClain said.

The Red Cross is currently accepting appointments for anyone who wants to make a donation. Appointments can be made on the American Red Cross' website and through the Red Cross Blood Donor App. 

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