Dantrell K. Howard was first diagnosed with Sickle Cell Anemia at 8 years old by her sister who was going to school during that time to become a phlebotomist. “We always wondered why I would get so lethargic as a kid. I would get real bad stomach aches and fever,” says Dantrell. After being diagnosed, Dantrell began receiving treatment at LSU Medical Center in Shreveport; LifeShare, through local donors, is the exclusive supplier of blood to LSUMC – Shreveport. Blood and exchange transfusions help Dantrell manage this disease and improve her quality of life. “After receiving blood,” Dantrell says, “I’m ready to do whatever. I have so much energy.”
Dantrell before and after receiving a blood transfusion
For those that aren’t familiar with Sickle Cell Disease, it is a genetic disorder that affects the red blood cells, which use a protein called hemoglobin to transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Normally, red blood cells are round and flexible so they can travel freely through narrow blood vessels. Patients with this disease have sickle-shaped red blood cells which often get stuck in blood vessels; this can cause episodes of pain called “Sickle crisies,” delayed growth, strokes, jaundice and more.
Dantrell, 38 years old now, has had to deal with some of these effects herself. She had to have an artificial hip put in because of Avascular Necrosis, a disease where bone tissue dies due to a lack of blood supply, common in Sickle Cell patients. A minor stroke has also caused her to lose some feeling in her face.
“Blood for this disease is very important. There’s so much pain that comes with this disease. If you don’t have the blood, you can’t get rid of the pain,” says Dantrell. Of the 10 blood transfusions and 3 exchange transfusions that Dantrell has gone through, she has used approximately 45 pints of blood. Because multiple transfusions have created the need for very specialized matching of the blood donor, she had to wait two weeks for her last transfusion because there were no donors available. “It’s often very hard when waiting on the blood for my surgeries and transfusions,” she says.
Watching Dantrell fight through this disease has caused her husband and many of her family members to become regular blood donors. “I just want to encourage people to give,” says Dantrell, “because the blood does make a difference.”
In the United States, Sickle Cell Disease most commonly affects African-Americans. About 1 out of every 500 African-American babies born in the United States has this disease. Additionally, because they are transfused so often, many Sickle Cell patients produce antibodies against red blood cells which are unlike their own. Once these antibodies are produced, the patient must receive blood specifically typed, or antigen-matched, to prevent a reaction with antibodies present. When attempting to find antigen-matched blood, the odds are often significantly increased by screening donors of the same ethnicity as the patient. In some cases, matched blood is almost impossible to find in donors of another race. Therefore, with some Sickle Cell patients, the rare blood types they need are only found in African-Americans. This is why it is important to Sickle Cell patients for the African-American population to donate blood. By becoming a regular blood donor, you are helping ensure those like Dantrell who depend on antigen-matched, blood will not have to wait for it- especially when there are plenty of us in the community who can provide it.