By Karen Stokes
Ald. Ashanti Hamilton knows first-hand how sickle cell disease can affect a family. Hamilton’s sister, Jamera passed away from sickle cell Disease at the age of 7, he was 14 at the time. His uncle was also diagnosed with sickle cell.
September is National sickle cell Awareness Month as designated by Congress to help focus attention on the need for research and treatment of sickle cell disease.
Information from Versiti Blood Center states that sickle cell is an inherited condition that affects 1 out of every 400 African American births. It is caused by an abnormal type of hemoglobin (blood protein) that creates red blood cells that have an abnormal “sickle” shape instead of a normal disc shape. Sickle cells carry less oxygen and can interrupt healthy blood flow, eventually leading to tissue and organ damage.
“I’ve had a number of family members who had the disease,” Hamilton said. “We had a routine for my little sister and uncle. They had regular hospital visits, they stayed a number of days so it was like a thing for us to take regular trips to the hospital to see them, to bring them something to eat. This happened multiple times a month.”
A common symptom of the disease is pain and it can affect all parts of the body where blood flows. It can cause stroke, kidney disease or make the spleen functionally ineffective. In adults, many patients have joint problems.
“We had to learn how to give massages to help my uncle get through some pain crises. We learned to help keep him hydrated,” Hamilton added.
In honor of Sickle Cell Awareness Month, Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin is teaming up with community leaders to host Sickle Cell Saturdays throughout September, beginning with the kickoff event on Sept. 5. Sickle Cell Champion Hamilton is raising blood donations in honor of his Sickle Cell Warrior and sister Jamera Hamilton.
The event will build awareness of how common the disease is in the African American communities and the need for more African American’s to give blood.
According to the Versiti Blood Center webpage, sickle cell patients may require chronic blood transfusions to treat their disease, and many feel healthiest after they receive blood.
Since 44% of African Americans have Ro blood, providing matched Ro blood to sickle cell patients may provide a safer blood transfusion and additional benefits.
Hamilton explained, “It’s imperative for us to give blood. So many people need blood donations because they are routinely going to the hospital and without blood transfusions their lives could be in jeopardy. There’s a shortage of blood especially during this pandemic.”
The process of giving blood is simple.
“I’ve given blood numerous times and usually you’re in and out in 10 to 15 minutes of sitting in the chair. It’s simple, normally no pain involved beyond the needle prick and it’s pretty fast. It’s a painless process. The environment is clean and sanitized. Masks are required,” said Hamilton.
Sickle Cell Saturdays:
Kickoff Saturday, Sept. 5, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Holy Redeemer Christian Academy, 3500 W. Mother Daniels Way, followed by a drive each Saturday in September:
Saturday, Sept. 12, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Wesley McKenzie and Jonathan Hood Abundant Faith Church of Integrity, 7830 W. Good Hope Rd., Milwaukee, WI 53223
Saturday, Sept. 22, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Greater New Birth Baptist Church, 8237 W. Silver Spring Milwaukee, WI 53218
Saturday, Sept. 26, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Sherman Phoenix – Versiti Mobile Bus, 3536 W. Fond Du Lac Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53216
“I think it’s important for us to take responsibility for each other during this time period of recognizing the importance of Black lives and valuing those in our community,” said Hamilton.
He continued, “One of our responsibilities to show our value is helping to keep each other alive and I think that we don’t realize the impact that we can have in valuing, supporting each other and keeping us all healthy and safe. Giving blood is one of those examples of how to heal ourselves.”
Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is a disease that affects one in every twelve African Americans. During the month of September, SCD is brought to the forefront of our minds during Sickle Cell Awareness Month. To honor those we have lost and those who are currently living with the disease, Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin will be hosting Sickle Cell Saturday Blood Drives every Saturday in September.
The drives are:
- September 5 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Holy Redeemer Christian Academy Cafeteria 3500 W. Mother Daniels Way, Milwaukee, WI 53209
- September 12 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Abundant Faith Church Hall 7830 W Good Hope Road, Milwaukee WI 53223
- September 19 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Greater New Birth Church 8237 W. Silver Spring Dr, Milwaukee, WI 53218
- September 26 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the Versiti Bloodmobile hosted by Evelyn’s Circle at Sherman Phoenix 3536 W. Fond Du Lac Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53216
Blood donations can be a life-saving gift for sickle cell patients and help give them renewed strength and energy. Milwaukee Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, who lost his sister Jamera to complications of SCD when she was just 7 years old, has dedicated himself to raising awareness about the disease that disproportionately affects the African American Community, especially during COVID-19.
“The pandemic has not stopped the need for blood donations across the City of Milwaukee,” says Alderman Hamilton. “Giving blood is safe and helps people right here in our community. We need local blood for local sickle cell warriors – you have the power to save lives.”
Anyone who registers for one of the drives will receive a Versiti Sickle Cell Awareness T-shirt as well as a free treat from Pastryman. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 1-877-BE-A-HERO or at bit.ly/sicklecellsaturday. Appointments are strongly encouraged. With coronavirus safety precautions in place, walk-ins could experience wait times.
To continue to ensure donor safety, Versiti employees will wear cloth face coverings, as will donors, when in a Versiti facility. Donors are asked to bring a face covering.
Social distancing is also being practiced at all donation centers and community blood drives, and the temperature of all potential blood donors is being taken, as well as that of staff members. In addition, Versiti has implemented increased cleaning and disinfecting procedures in all donor centers and community blood drives.
About Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin
Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin is a not-for-profit organization headquartered in Milwaukee that specializes in blood services, esoteric diagnostic testing, organ, tissue and stem cell
donation, medical services and leading-edge research. We advance patient care by delivering life-saving products and services. For more information, visit versiti.org/Wisconsin.