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Sickle cell: Milwaukee student recognized for work in making blood donations more diverse

In the U.S., people of African descent make up 90% of those with sickle cell.
Posted at 3:47 PM, Sep 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-12 14:06:13-04

MILWAUKEE — In the same way people get their eye color, skin, and hair...sickle cell is a condition passed down from both parents.

Dr. Dora Clayton-Jones is an Assistant Professor at the College of Nursing at Marquette University.

"Sickle cell disease is when there is a defect in two of the genes and the person will inherit two sickle genes," said Dr. Clayton-Jones.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the U.S. people of African descent make up 90% of those with sickle cell. It also affects people of Hispanic, South Asian, Southern European, and Middle Eastern descent. Healthy red blood cells are smooth, round, and bendable so blood can easily flow, whereas sickle cells are crescent or banana-shaped.

"In addition to the shape, it's sticky and it's hard, so it's a massive traffic jam and whenever there's a traffic jam in the body there's no oxygen getting to that area," said Dr. Clayton-Jones.

Pain is the most common symptom, but without oxygen, any organ in the body can be affected or damaged over time. Treatments such as medications and blood transfusions aim at managing the symptoms and preventing crises such as stroke. Alana Fisher is a freshman at UW-Milwaukee and understands the importance of blood donation.

"For the past four years, I've done the blood drives at my school, so one in the fall, one in the spring," said Fisher.

To her surprise, she was awarded the Red Cross Sickle Cell Fighter High School Scholarship while at Rufus King High School and recently won another scholarship for her leadership in strengthening the blood supply through diverse donors.

"I got two scholarships from the Red Cross. One for $1,000 and one for $5,000 and that's going to be a very big help," said Fisher.

Red Cross officials say Alana's efforts will have a lasting positive impact on people dealing with the pain of sickle cell.

"She was really able to tap into that community spirit at Rufus King and really that diverse base of students and teachers there. She was able to bring in kind of a large number of donors that met this national threshold for this scholarship," said Justin Kern, Communications Director at the American Red Cross of Southeast Wisconsin.

The Red Cross provides about 40% of our nation's blood and blood components from generous volunteer donors. Donor diversity in race and ethnic backgrounds is extremely important.

"A diverse blood supply is a stronger blood supply. It's the kind of thing where if someone is suffering from something like sickle cell that blood from someone who is a self-identified Black blood donor, it's just a stronger match," said Kern.

Alana reminds us that the reason to donate is simple.

"It helps save people's lives and it only feels like a pinch, so it doesn't hurt to give," said Fisher.

For more information, visit the American Red Cross website.

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