Local student advances for more diverse blood donors

Bre’Asia Demery, a Johnson C. Smith University senior, says her life looks relatively similar to other students’; she likes to write and paint, and on Sundays, she teaches bible school.

But some things for Demery are a bit different, like her health. At only four years old, she was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease, also known as SCD. 

Why it matters: SCD affects approximately 100,000 Americans and disproportionately impacts the Black community. SCD occurs in about 1 of every 365 Black births, according to the CDC

Demery said growing up with SCD wasn’t easy.

On her “bad days,” she says she experienced severe pain that she calls a “pain crisis.” During these, Demery said she feels pain in her neck and back, has night sweats, and experiences severe headaches and tiredness. 

“It’s definitely just pain,” Demery said. “You feel sluggish and tired.” 

Demery said that while adjusting to her diagnosis, her family struggled with seeing her unwell.

The 21-year-old said she wasn’t sure if she would ever see certain milestones due to chronic health conditions. 

“4-years old, ‘you’re not gonna make it,’ 16, ‘you’re not gonna make it,’” Demery said of what doctors told her.  

Despite what she was told, she did reach those milestones.

And recently, she reached another one: a year-long college internship.

This summer, Demery will join Be the Match, a stem cell and bone marrow donor registry for people with blood disorders like cancer or Lupus.

Sickle Cell Disease complications 

Sickle cell disease causes a “constant shortage of red blood cells” that can lead to pain and other complications.

Demery said complications, like a “pain crisis,” can vary and differ in severity. Some symptoms can be debilitating. 

“For some people, it could be sweating,” Demery said. “It could be panic attacks, anything like that.” 

Treatment can include preventative and intervention methods. Preventative treatment includes lifestyle changes like drinking enough water, prioritizing rest, and avoiding low oxygen levels. 

Intervention methods can include rapid hydration, medication or transplants like the allogenic transplant – a replacement of healthy cells – that Be The Match supports patients with.

Demery told QCity Metro she’s fortunate enough not to need a transplant and manages the disease with medication but understands the importance of the option. 

Without treatment, SCD can have complications such as fever, anemia, infection, organ damage and infections, according to the CDC

A local need 

In Charlotte, there’s a need for more diverse blood donors, especially Black people, according to Susan Forbes, Senior Vice President at One Blood, a nonprofit that provides blood to 250 hospitals throughout the Southeast.

For sickle cell, leukemia and lymphoma, Be the Match says, certain transplants like bone marrow and cord blood are considered some of the best treatment options, and transplants are more likely to be successful when done with someone of the same ethnicity.

Forbes said patients in need of blood donations usually must match not only their blood type but also their antigens. She said finding donors with the same antigens as patients in need becomes more manageable when a diverse pool of donors is available. 

“Over 70% of the blood supply is Caucasian,” Forbes said. “Less than 5% of African Americans donate [blood].” 

The current blood supply is in great need of type O blood, which is very common among Black people. 

“Not only does [the Black community] have this ability to help very specific patients within their own community,” Forbes said. “but they have the ability to help all patients.” 

Forbes says donating is easy and allows the recipient a chance at living.

“There’s no greater gift than to give someone their life back, and that’s exactly what blood donors are doing,” Forbes said. 

A Voice on campus 

Despite the symptoms and constant possibility of a pain crisis, Demery said she is eager to share the importance of donating blood. One of her main objectives is to “spread the word” about Be the Match and educate people about her illness.

“I know what it feels like to be in that much pain,” Demery said. “ I know what it feels like not to have a voice.” 

At Be the Match, she will collect cheek swaps to be sent to a lab for transplant match testing. 

“I’m just the in-between to help [people] get their matches,” Demery said with a smile. 

She’ll also be a campus liaison. As a liaison, Demery will host events to inform students about bone marrow and cord blood donation and speak about her experiences with SCD. 

“I just talk about what Sickle Cell looks like and how [people] can help,” Demery said. 

She said it feels “surreal” to be a part of the mission looking toward a cure for blood diseases. 

“I never imagined myself being the one to talk about Sickle Cell. I always say ‘I have Sickle Cell. Sickle Cell doesn’t have me.”

Demery’s internship will begin on July 10 and end in May 2024.

Source link

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 × 5 =