Chris Mitchell, seen with his mother Martha, has sickle cell anemia. The American Red Cross is encouraging minorities to donate blood to help battle the disease, which affects more than 80,000 Americans, a vast majority of them of African American descent.
When Chris Mitchell was about 2 years old, his mother, Martha, noticed he was running a low-grade fever.
“I thought he caught a cold or was coming down with the flu,” Martha Mitchell said. “I was basically treating him for that. He was running this fever, and he may have been teething—but then his fever spiked to 103 or 104 (degrees).”
Having adopted her son as he turned 1 year old, she already knew he suffered from sickle cell anemia. The Guernsey County mother—who once worked in Coshocton—had researched the disease and learned about the complications that came with it. Within the next couple of days, Martha Mitchell would learn what it meant for a sickle cell anemia patient to be in crisis.
According to the American Sickle Cell Anemia Association, the condition is an inherited blood disorder in which a component of a person’s red blood cells—the hemoglobin—is defective. In Chris Mitchell’s case, 47 percent of his red blood cells are normal. When going through a crisis, that number drops significantly. The role of hemoglobin is to carry oxygen from the lungs to the body’s organs and tissues and then to bring carbon dioxide to the lungs. A percentage of sickle cell patients’ red blood cells are misshapen and can become trapped in small blood vessels, thus depriving organs of much-needed oxygen and creating pain at certain sites.
The condition afflicts an estimated 80,000 Americans—95 percent of them of African American descent. One of the most effective treatments for patients in crisis is a blood transfusion, which replenishes the body with healthy red blood cells. Other treatments include antibiotics and pain medication.
September is Sickle Cell Anemia Awareness Month and the American Red Cross encourages minorities to donate blood, as blood donated by a person with the same ethnic background is less likely to generate a reaction to the donated blood.
The Mitchell family learned firsthand the benefits of having blood readily available to sickle cell anemia patients.
“In the middle of the night, we drove to Columbus Children’s Hospital, and he was hospitalized,” Martha Mitchell said. “By the second day, the fever hadn’t broken and I can remember this very distinctly, the doctor came in at 2 a.m. and said he needed blood.”
Though that has been the only time her son needed a blood transfusion, Martha Mitchell said her son—now 21—has spent a great deal of his life either hospitalized or on antibiotics and pain medication. He recently went through another crisis, which landed him in the hospital for several days. His mother linked the crisis to the change in weather—which often induces his attacks.
“Sickle cell doesn’t get the publicity or notoriety that it used to but there are children every day getting transfusion for treatment of the disease, needing blood from people of their culture,” said Jackie Mishler, director of the Coshocton Chapter of the American Red Cross. “They need African American blood to get the full benefits of their treatment.”
She added that the number of minorities donating blood in Coshocton County is very low.
Toby Wiggins, who is an African American, donated his first pint of blood with his college football team after one of his mates was injured. After doing some research about his donation, the Zanesville resident learned giving his blood at least once a year truly helped others. In mid-August, he donated another pint of blood during a local drive.
“I might not know the person I’ve helped but I feel like I’ve helped someone by giving just that one pint of blood,” Wiggins said. “Who knows, it might be me needing that blood one day.”
Martha Mitchell said people she’s known over the years have donated blood in her son’s name, just in case he suffered from another life-threatening crisis.
“With a life-threatening illness, if we have the blood available here, it makes treatment a lot less traumatic for the child and the family to be closer to home,” she said. At a glance
A bloodmobile will be held from 1 to 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 24, at Coshocton County Memorial Hospital’s conference room.