JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON –
To help provide a healthy blood supply for all the patients treated at the San Antonio Military Medical Center, the Akeroyd Blood Donor Center will be launching a new sickle cell blood donor program.
Aimed at raising awareness and increasing blood donations in the ethnically diverse military community, the program will target active duty service members, family members and federal civilians on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 Americans. It affects people of many ethnic groups to include African-Americans, Hispanics, people of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent and Asians. However, it is most common in African-Americans and Hispanics.
With sickle cell disease, the body's bone marrow creates abnormal hemoglobin, called Hemoglobin S. This abnormal hemoglobin causes the red blood cells to change shape forming a "sickle or crescent" shape and limiting the cell's survival to about 10 to 20 days.
Because the bone marrow cannot keep up with red cell and hemoglobin production, patients develop an anemia known as sickle cell anemia. Patients with sickle cell anemia can suffer life-threatening complications as sickled cells block blood flow damaging tissue and organs leading to strokes, heart attacks and other medical complications.
In order to treat the disease, sickle cell patients often require multiple blood transfusions over their lifetime, which means that having blood donors with the same blood type and racial background can be critical during their treatment. Additionally, antigens - proteins and sugars attached to the red cells - forming other blood groups can cause additional complications for patients with sickle cell disease.
"We can transfuse 10 to 12 units of blood every four to eight weeks into each of our sickle cell patients," said Andrea Laws, a registered nurse with the SAMMC cellular and aphaeresis section. "This can equate to thousands of transfusions over a person's life time.
"In addition, patients might receive antigen positive units of blood which may cause antibodies to be formed to the donor's blood. It is best if we can determine what blood group antigens are carried on a patient's red blood cells before their first transfusion," Laws added. "Then, we can match them specifically to the blood products."
Treatment for sickle cell patients also includes medications, but routine blood transfusions or a red blood cell exchange procedure are often used to treat worsening anemia and life-threatening complications. Routine blood transfusions replenish the body's normal hemoglobin increasing oxygen levels, treat acute chest syndrome and help prevent strokes.
"As sickle cell patients receive multiple transfusions, they can build up excessive amounts of iron in their liver and other organs. This excessive iron can cause renal failure, cirrhosis of the liver and eventually liver failure," Laws said. "Red blood cell exchange procedures can minimize the amount of iron build up and remove damaged red cells."
During a red cell exchange, the patient's red cells are removed and replaced by donor red blood cells using an automated procedure. Because of the amount of blood needed for these procedures - usually 10 to 12 units - it is critical that donated blood be as closely matched to the patient's blood type to include ethnic background and other blood group antigens. If not, the patient may develop complications to antibodies against the antigens in the donated blood.
"Sickle cell patients are surviving longer with better quality of life. It may be cheaper for the patient in the long run to keep up with blood exchanges and routine transfusion therapy with antigen negative blood over multiple hospital stays," Laws said. "We have the potential to be proactive and preemptive, rather than reactive. More minority blood donors are needed."
The Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland and Akeroyd Blood Donor Centers have joined forces to provide sickle cell negative units to the blood bank at SAMMC every week. However, the Akeroyd Blood Donor Center is encouraging additional African-American service members and family members with O-positive blood to donate.
The Akeroyd Blood Donor Center is building a database of blood donors who have been tested and identified as sickle cell trait negative. Each donor is encouraged to donate every 57 days, or when there is a specific need identified by the blood bank.
For more information or questions about how you can sign-up for the Sickle Cell Blood Donor program, please call the Armed Services Blood Program blood donor recruiter directly at 295-4655/4989.
Walk-in donors are welcome at the Akeroyd Blood Donor Center between 7:30 a.m. and noon Monday through Friday. The center is located at B1240 Harney Road, behind Budge Dental Clinic on JBSA-Fort Sam Houston.
To find out more about how you can help the Armed Services Blood Program or to schedule an appointment to donate, please visit http://www.militaryblood.dod.mil. For more information, visit http://www.facebook.com/militaryblood, http://www.flickr.com/militaryblood and http://www.twitter.com/militaryblood.