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Need for Black blood donors increasing to help patients with sickle cell disease

The American Red Cross is launching an initiative to grow the number of Black blood donors.
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Posted at 6:50 PM, Sep 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-27 21:56:54-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The American Red Cross is launching an initiative to grow the number of Black blood donors.

“We are so incredibly grateful for the Red Cross and how hard they have worked for Josh,” Brenda Jank said.

Josh Jank has sickle cell disease; an inherited blood disorder that prevents blood from moving freely through the veins and deliver oxygen throughout the body, causing tremendous pain. Josh also began having strokes at just five years old, which is a side effect of the disease.

“Ever since the time I was five until I was 18, I figured out that blood transfusions would keep me from having any more strokes,” Josh said.

Blood transfusions can help sickle cell patients tremendously.

“Most sickle cell patients will need about 100 pints of blood in just one year,” Hyacinth Rucker, Regional Communications Manager for The American Red Cross of Indiana said.

“I’ve probably had over 400 transfusions easily plus,” Josh added.

This makes the need for blood donors — predominantly Black donors — critical, as sickle cell patients require a similar blood type match for donation which can generally only come from someone who is also Black.

“It is gift of life that I can’t even begin to say because the transfusions lived a pain-free childhood which for a sickle cell child is almost unheard of,” Jank explained. "It was truly a gift of life every single month.”

The American Red Cross of Indiana says only about 4% of their blood donors are Black.

“The need for blood is constant,” Rucker said. “We always need blood. It’s less than an hour of your time to be able to give blood to see save three lives. So I think it’s a small amount of time that will make a huge impact.”

To spread the word about the need and a glimmer of hope for anyone who is also struggling, Josh hands out these red diamonds to people he meets.

“We take them basically just everywhere I go,” Josh explained. "I’ll go out and tell people I’ll say, hey, get to know them a little bit. We are at restaurants or anywhere pretty much I’ll say, hey can I give you a diamond? And the way I pass it on is I say, it’s red for love and it’s a diamond because God does good things under heat and pressure.”

He encourages people to become a blood donor and pay it forward.

“If you want to be a superhero, you are a superhero today. You’re saving lives and it’s giving someone hope,” Josh said.

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