Why aren't more African Americans donating blood?

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It's a question many in the healthcare field are asking. Why aren't more African Americans donating blood?

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. While there are medications that help reduce the severity of the disease, which is a disorder of the red blood cells, doctors say blood donations are life saving treatments for sickle cell disease.

The disease deforms or changes the shape of red blood cells to a crescent or sickle shape that obstructs the flow of oxygen to organs. Patients can suffer from life threatening pneumonia to chronic pain.

Doctor Jessica Bell, a pediatric hematologist oncologist at Presbyterian Hospital, says blood transfusions help treat the anemia crisis of sickle cell and other complications. According to Dr Bell, some patients "are on chronic transfusion programs to help prevent crisis from returning so it's absolutely a lifesaving treatment we're very dependent on."

Patients with sickle cell disease need blood similar to theirs. Since most patients tend to be African American, they need other African Americans to donate blood. Community workers say they're having a hard time getting African Americans to give blood.

Sadie Jordan, with Community Health Intervention - A Sickle Cell Agency, says "we have less than one percent of the African American minority community donating blood. She says they did a survey two years ago to find out why people in the community don't give blood. "What we were told is nobody asked. We were told they do not like needles or have low iron", says Jordan who is the Community Outreach Manager.

According to Community Health Interventions, there are more than 700 cases in the Charlotte area - and 60 percent are children.

Case in point: 11 month old Carter. Sickle cell runs in his family. He was diagnosed at birth, and last Thursday morning his mother rushed him to the hospital with a fever. Portia Allen says "I felt like I was going to have an anxiety attack". Her baby boy spent 5 days in the hospital. Allen says it was 'stressful' watching him having to get "blood cultures, having to stick him, having to get an ivy into his arm, trying to find a vein, seeing him cry, toss and turn, seeing the hurt and pain in his eyes".

Carter's grandmother, Evelyn Harris, has sickle cell disease. She says she's had three transfusions so far in her life and knows what's ahead for Carter. To keep him infection free, the family says there might be times Carter will have to wear a mask. While they plan to take many steps to keep him healthy - they know there's a possibility he may one day need a transfusion.

Of the lack of blood donors in the African American community, both Harris and Allen point to a lack of awareness. "I just think they don't know - I don't get mad - it's just lack of knowledge", says Harris.

Many organizations are hosting blood drives and trying to raise awareness about the importance of giving blood.

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