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Minority Donor Outreach & Education

kids kissing woman's cheekThe mission of Inova Blood Donor Services is to provide a safe and adequate blood supply for the patients in our diverse community. Having a donor population that matches our patient population is essential to reducing the risk of further complications when receiving blood transfusions for our sickle cell patients.

Minority donors, African Americans in particular, have rare compatibility traits in their blood that are unique to the African-American community. Therefore, optimal blood matches for African Americans will come from members with their same ethnic background. However, while African-Americans comprise nearly 13 percent of the US population, less than one percent are blood donors.

The link between sickle cell anemia and minority donors

Many African Americans have, or know someone who has, been affected by sickle cell disease, an inherited disease that affects the red blood cells that causes serious infections and can also be very painful.

Sickle cell patients rely on an average of 15-25 blood transfusions per year. Depending on the severity of the disease, that number could be even higher. Without a blood transfusion that contains compatible traits, the patient can develop antibodies and build  a tolerance to the blood they receive, which could lead to further complications and additional transfusions over the patient’s lifetime.

The facts
  • Sickle cell anemia occurs in one out of every 500 African American births
  • The sickle-cell trait occurs in approximately one in 12 African Americans
  • IBDS currently tests approximately 200 units of blood per month for sickle-cell transfusions. Of these, only about 20 units are compatible, as compared with the 30 to 40 units of blood per month required to meet the needs of our patients with this disease

Real life stories

LaTonia, Sickle Cell Patient, Real Life StoryLaTonia, sickle cell patient
Written February 2010

“I was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia at 10 months old after my parents rushed me to the hospital with a high fever and convulsions. As a child I experienced many respiratory infections, fatigue and pain. I missed school from illness but still managed to keep up with my peers in school. It really began to affect me in my early teens when I would be hospitalized for Sickle Cell pain crisis. I believe that is when I began receiving blood but only when I was hospitalized for a crisis.

At 19, I was hospitalized for a crisis and ended up developing double pneumonia while in the hospital. I was intubated on a respirator and when I awoke the doctors determined that I had suffered a stroke. It was devastating for me. I had to withdraw from college and could not drive for almost two years. It took a long while for me to recover from that. Eventually, I was able to return to school part time and receive an Associate degree as a member of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society.

I consider my quality of life to be great in spite of Sickle Cell mainly because of the amazing family support I have always received. I am the youngest of 8 children from Houston, TX. I have been married for 8 years to an amazing man who supports me in good and bad times. I am back in college finishing my bachelors’ degree and will soon be a mother.

We moved to the DC area in 2008, and I initially would receive blood from Inova while hospitalized for pain crisis in emergency situations. Last fall my hematologist began giving me regular blood exchanges to try to prevent the lengthy and painful hospital stays. So far I’ve had three but now that I’m pregnant I need them more often. Originally I was going to receive an exchange every eight weeks but now it is every four to six weeks.

It is essential that I receive type specific blood for me and my baby. I already have antibodies from past transfusions and developing more could hurt the baby. The blood exchanges help me to be less anemic and in turn have more oxygen for the baby to grow and develop well. They have kept me from being hospitalized thus far, reduced my pain, they give me more energy to live an active and more normal life. The blood exchanges also could possibly protect me from further organ damage.

My pregnancy is progressing well. I am six months now and carrying a little girl. For my last two blood exchanges there were not enough units that matched me so I received less blood than the doctors needed me to which has left me with more daily pain than when I receive the recommended amount. I am still grateful for the units I did receive and I’m hopeful that this awareness campaign will help all of those in the area affected by Sickle Cell and other disorders that desperately need your services.“
Cailyn, daughter of LaTonia, Sickle Cell Patient, Real Life Story
Update: LaTonia gave birth to a healthy 6 lb 11 oz, 19 ¾” baby girl named Cailyn on June 2011.


How can you help?

Donate blood
Blood donation is simple. The donation process takes approximately one hour and is completely safe. All of the equipment used during the donation process is sterile, disposable and used only once before it is discarded. There is no danger of contracting any infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, by donating blood.

Schedule an appointment to donate
Click the "Donate Blood" button on the right-hand side of the screen. From there, you can enter a ZIP code near your home or workplace to find a blood drive or donor center.

Bring a friend
Spend time with a friend and save lives in the process. Plus, if you’re nervous, you will have a friendly face to put you at ease.

Coordinate a blood drive
Coordinate a blood drive in your community and build a network of support for promoting blood donation.