Building a diverse blood donor base in greater Cincinnati

The unique impact of minority blood donors

Hoxworth Blood Center, University of Cincinnati’s mission is to enhance the well-being of patients in the greater Cincinnati community by assuring a reliable and economical supply of the safest possible blood. To do so requires a diverse blood supply that matches local patients in need.     

Graphic saying 1 in 13 African American's are born with the sickle cell trait

Critical need for Black & Hispanic blood donors

In Cincinnati and across the nation, there is a critical need for Black and Hispanic blood donors. They can make a profound difference in the lives of patients requiring specially matched transfusions – like those with sickle cell disease. Genetically-similar blood from minority donors increases the likelihood of successful matches for patients from the same ethnic background. This not only reduces complications but also significantly improves the overall outcome for the patient.

Caroline Alquist, MD, PhD, Chief Transplant-Services Officer at Hoxworth Blood Center

Caroline Alquist, MD, PhD, Chief Transplant-Services Officer, Hoxworth Blood Center

“We know that a diverse blood supply results in better outcomes for certain disease populations,” explains Caroline Alquist, MD, PhD, Chief Transplant-Services Officer at Hoxworth Blood Center. “Your heritage or background results in blood cells that are slightly different due to the proteins on the red cell surface that we may have to match.”

The urgency for minority blood donors stems from the crucial role they play in establishing a diverse blood supply. Their donations provide greater access to corresponding phenotypes, some of which may be rare, crucial for individuals battling diseases like sickle cell disease and thalassemia.

Nationally, only 12.2% of whole blood and red cell units were collected from minority donors in 2023. This is a 35.4% decrease from 2019. In the greater Cincinnati area, only 7% of these donations come from our minority populations.

Sickle cell anemia, 3D illustration showing blood vessel with normal and deformed crescent

What is sickle cell disease (SCD)?

Sickle cell disease is a genetic blood disorder which causes the body to produce abnormal cells that can become sickle-shaped and obstruct blood flow through vessels. Approximately 100,000 Americans are affected by sickle cell disease. One out of every 365 African Americans is impacted by SCD, while one in 13 African Americans are born with the sickle cell trait.

Blood transfusions alleviate symptoms

The impact of sickle cell disease is far-reaching. Symptoms can include anemia, pain, and organ damage to the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain. Treatments, including medications and blood transfusions, aim to alleviate symptoms. 

Carla Howard, Sickle Cell Disease patient

Carla Howard, Sickle Cell Disease patient

Sickle cell disease patient and Hoxworth blood recipient, Carla Howard, recalls the crisis she went into in April of 2017:

“Within a span of two hours, the pain was the worst I had ever felt," she explains. "The crisis left me with a partially collapsed left lung, and my body was not healing in a way that it should. My blood levels were off and my breathing was short."

It was decided that the best treatment would be an outpatient blood transfusion, however, on this day in particular, it took longer than usual to find an appropriate match. After a 96-hour start-to-finish process, Carla received her much-needed blood transfusion. "Transfusions are like that caffeinated drink that gets you going but last so much longer," she says of receiving blood. "I go from feeling sluggish to having a pep in my step."

Staged scenes at the Hoxworth Blood Center

Minority blood donors minimize risk of adverse reactions

The best outcomes for sickle cell patients requiring blood transfusions will be seen when a healthy proportion of blood donors share similar genetic backgrounds. African American blood donors, for instance, are more likely to have proteins on their red blood cells that align with those of sickle cell patients, minimizing the risk of adverse reactions. 

“We know that people who require chronic transfusion therapy often need better-matched blood than the average patient,” explains Alquist. “If you have a disease like sickle cell disease, we have to be very precise in how we match that blood.”

Graphic states 1 in 3 African American blood donors are a match to a sickle cell patient

“Because different backgrounds and ethnicities have different proteins on the surface of those cells, if we have a blood supply that matches the patients in need, we can do a much better job at matching those and providing that blood in a quick and efficient manner,” Alquist continues.

Hoxworth’s mission revolves around ensuring a diverse and reliable blood supply, vital for all local patients in need. The urgent call for Black and Hispanic blood donors resonates not only locally but echoes across the nation, especially for those battling diseases like sickle cell or thalassemia.

The power of blood donations from diverse donors

Alquist emphasizes the pivotal role diversity plays in the success of transfusion therapy, particularly for chronic conditions like sickle cell disease. The impact of sickle cell disease is profound, affecting countless lives locally and nationally. Yet, the inspiring stories of individuals like Carla Howard, a sickle cell disease patient and blood recipient, shed light on the transformative power of blood donations from donors with diverse backgrounds. 

Donating blood with Hoxworth Blood Center gives hope for a better tomorrow for those battling sickle cell disease, cancer, traumas, and more. Join Hoxworth’s community of blood donors by scheduling a lifesaving blood donation today at one of our seven locations and be the match local patients need. 

About Hoxworth:
Hoxworth Blood Center, University of Cincinnati, was founded in 1938 and serves more than 30 hospitals in 18 counties in Southwestern Ohio, Northern Kentucky, and Southeastern Indiana. Annually, Hoxworth collects more than 100,000 units of blood from local donors to help save the lives of patients in area hospitals. Hoxworth Blood Center: Saving Lives Close to Home. 

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