Ming DeMers/Sun Staff Photographer

Facilities and Campus Services Diversity and Inclusion Council hosted a blood drive in collaboration with the Red Cross to donate much-needed blood and raise awareness about around sickle cell disease.

October 5, 2022

Sickle Cell Disease Blood Drive Hopes to Support Diverse Blood Needs

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On Friday, Sept. 30, the Facilities and Campus Services Diversity and Inclusion Council hosted a blood drive in collaboration with the Red Cross to donate much-needed blood and raise awareness about sickle cell disease.

Helen Steh, co-chair of the FCS Diversity and Inclusion Council, said the idea behind the drive came from the need to engage division staff.

“The Facilities and Campus Services Diversity and Inclusion Council is dedicated to creating engagement opportunities for division staff where we can meet, get to know one another, and give back to the community in some way,” Steh wrote in a statement to The Sun. “We decided to sponsor the blood drive to help the community, create teamwork within our council and bring awareness to Sickle Cell disease.”

The month of September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Any donor who identifies as Black or African American was tested for the Sickle Cell Trait. People who carry this trait can help to save the lives of patients who suffer from Sickle Cell Disease and require closely matched blood types. 

Sickle Cell Disease is the most common inherited blood disorder in the U.S., mostly affecting patients of African descent as well as Latinx people who may require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lifetime. Seasonal changes can trigger pain crises for those battling Sickle Cell Disease — possibly increasing the need for lifesaving blood transfusions. Currently, only 4 percent of the donors identify as African American. Sickle Cell Disease is a genetic disease that affects Black and some Latino patients, and may require a lifetime of blood transfusions from donors who are closely matched ethnically and carry the “Sickle Cell Trait.”  

The Sickle Cell Initiative was launched last year in an effort to increase the Red Cross Back donor base. This initiative, Our Blood Saves Lives, launched with community partners in 2021 to grow the number of blood donors who are Black and improve health outcomes for patients with sickle cell disease. 

The FCS Diversity and Inclusion Council reached out to biomedical services at the University after learning that they offer recruitment opportunities for students, faculty and staff of diversity and color. The American Red Cross is teaming up with organizations including the National Pan-Hellenic Council in the Black community to rally blood donors who are Black to support patients with sickle cell disease.

Natalie Mattrazzo, the account manager in Biomedical services at Cornell stated that this year’s drive turnout was exceptional. 

“The American Red Cross holds blood drives on Cornell campus throughout the school year, partnering with many different groups,” Mattrazzo said. “The Sept. 30 blood drive was our first time partnering with the Cornell Facilities and Campus Services Diversity and Inclusion Council. We came in at 154 percent of that goal.”

According to Mattrazzo, there was no difficulty in finding donors, as the students, faculty and staff readily stepped in line to give their blood. Most of the Red Cross drives are booked to capacity.

Mattrazzo added that ethnicity was an important component of this drive.

“This blood drive was …an effort to support diverse blood donation needs,” Mattrazzo said. “The Red Cross is working hard to meet the needs of every patient, including those with genetic diseases that require a blood donation matched as closely as possible with the same ethnicity.”

Donors who self-identify as African American were automatically tested for the sickle cell trait, and if they carry that trait, they can become a lifelong lifeline for sickle cell patients. Blood donations are sent wherever needed the most urgently within the U.S. It is common for the Red Cross to separate a blood donation into three products —- red blood cells, plasma and platelets —- helping three patients at once.

Annie Gardella grad was one of the people who were eager for the opportunity to donate blood at the drive in Willard Straight Hall. 

“It was my first time donating but I have always wanted to do it,” Gardella said. “It feels like a relatively easy thing to do that can hopefully make a real impact in someone else’s life.”

Gardella also urged other students to participate in the spirit of goodwill. Gardella said that Cornell’s system of signing up to donate on campus made it easy to donate blood. 

“You never know if you’ll require a blood donation one day, so donating while you can is always a great way to help,” Gardella said. “I hope that a lot of other students also join in the donations because there is always a need.”