Sickle Cell promotes blood drive Saturday

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 18, 2002

For most of Alma Stevens’ adult life, she’s spent countless days in excruciating pain barely able to get out of bed in many instances.

Stevens, 54, a Suffolk resident, is one of more than 80,000 people nationwide afflicted with sickle cell disease.

To increase the blood supply available to patients like Stevens who require frequent transfusions, three local organizations are joining hands to sponsor a Red Cross blood drive on Saturday at the East Suffolk Community Center on Sixth Street from 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

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The Suffolk Sickle Cell Anemia Association, Zeta Epsilon Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc., and the East Suffolk Community Center look forward to seeing a long line of anxious residents willing to contribute blood.

&uot;We’re having this blood drive because there is a need for blood for sickle cell patients,&uot; said Faye Ledbetter, coordinator of the Suffolk Sickle Cell Assoc.

Stevens remembers being constantly ill as a young child until she was diagnosed in her 20s with sickle cell.

Today, she spends many days in a motorized wheelchair because she’s often too weak to walk. She requires ongoing assistance from a private duty nurse, who tends to her medical needs and assists her in maintaining her apartment.

&uot;I can’t do what I use to do,&uot; explained. &uot;I can walk, but not for long. I am also very short-winded. Most of the time I am in no mood to do anything and I just stay in bed all day aching.&uot;

Stevens takes eight or nine different medications, and she’s thankful that she receives Medicaid benefits to cover her extensive medical costs.

Many sickle cell patients absorb exorbitant costs month to effectively manage their care. &uot;It can be extremely expensive,&uot; said Ledbetter.

In some cases, sickle cell has proven fatal. Steven’s nephew, who was in his 20s, lost his life to the disease three years ago. But Ledbetter pointed out that studies are reflecting that &uot;People are living longer and many are living better with the disease into middle age.&uot;

Sickle cell is an inherited disease known to primarily affect United States citizens of African descent. The disease is also known to occur in Greek, Asian, Native American and other ethnic groups. In the United States, about 1 in 12 black Americans have the sickle cell trait, and about 1 in 400 black newborns have the disease.

For patients who suffer with sickle cell, normally round red blood cells become sickle-shaped.

This decreased and deformed size, in turn, causes anemia, jaundice, pain, strokes, and organ damage. A strict medical regimen and blood transfusions assist patients in managing and preventing pain along with other complications.

Because of the critical need for blood transfusions in sickle cell patients, organizations like the Suffolk Sickle Cell want to emphasize the ongoing need to keep ample blood supplies on hand.

Stevens had two blood transfusions on Monday because her blood count had dropped to zero, prompting a 911 call. Last week, Stevens went through the same routine.

In Steven’s apartment she has a wall stacked with hospital basins as a reminder of her numerous trips.

&uot;I get blood transfusions several times a month,&uot; said Stevens. &uot;I never know when my blood levels are going to drop.&uot;

Ledbetter deals with scenarios like this on a daily basis as residents call on her for supportive stories.

While the sponsoring organizations are looking for all residents to participate in the blood drive, she stressed that donations from the black community is particularly needed because it increases the likelihood of compatibility with the predominantly affected black population.

&uot;We need more African-American donors, but the blood drive is open to the public,&uot; said Ledbetter.

And even though Stevens can’t physically participate in the drive on Saturday, it’s clearly evident that her heart is with the effort.

&uot;I can’t give blood, but I wish that I could,&uot; said Stevens.

For more information about the blood drive or to volunteer with the Suffolk Sickle Cell office, call 9341-2347.