Why Dallas Is Diversifying its Blood Supply

A partnership between the Potter's House Church, American Red Cross, and United MegaCare are working to expand blood donors in North Texas.

Even though 38 percent of the population in the U.S. are eligible to donate blood, less than 10 percent do so each year. Moreover, these donors are disproportionately White. People of color have historically donated blood at lower levels. But a partnership between The Potter’s House Church, the American Red Cross, and United MegaCare is looking to change that.

A study from the National Institutes of Health found that among nearly 400,000 blood donations reported by donors aged 16-69 years old, 77 percent of the collections were from White people. Black people donated at a rate of 16.3 percent, Hispanic people at 2.3 percent, and Asians at 2.2 percent. The country is only 59 percent White.

Why is a diverse blood supply important? Because blood type is inherited, a patient that needs blood is more likely to find a blood match from their own ethnic group. Sickle cell patients are especially likely to benefit. In the United States, Sickle Cell patients are overwhelmingly Black and may need a transfusion of as many as 100 units of blood a year to prevent the disease’s symptoms, like anemia and organ damage. The disease impacts one in 365 Black Americans, according to the CDC. If more people of color donate, the patients’ chances of having enough blood for their transfusions increases.

In Dallas, the United MegaCare Sickle Cell Blood Drives began in May with the goal of educating the Black community about sickle cell disease.

“Partnering with United MegaCare and The Potter’s House helps educate Black communities about the need for blood and encourages them to become active blood donors. It also ensures that blood donation opportunities are reflective of the diverse communities the Red Cross serves and held at convenient locations that help bring donation opportunities closer to home,” said American Red Cross communications representative Doyle Rader.

There have been five drives in North Texas, including Dallas, Frisco, the Fort Worth Potter’s House, and the Dallas Potter’s House campus, incentivizing donors with Amazon gift cards. The partnership also offers courses on sickle cell disease to increase engagement and motivate the Black community to donate blood.

“Education for sickle cell is focused on the background of the disease, the populations it affects, how the sickle cell affects the body, why donors of African descent are needed, the impact it has on the individuals and families, treatment through blood transfusion and impact donors can have by donating blood, as well as, how organizations can help by encouraging the communities they serve to get involved,” Rader said.

Sickle cell disease is a red blood cell disorder where they have abnormal hemoglobins that cause the red blood cells to become sticky and hard, killing those cells creating a red cell deficit in the body, and even blocking blood flow leading to an array of other health problems such as strokes, infections, and brief episodes of pain.

The drives are hosted as welcoming events in a familiar venue to lower the stigma surrounding giving blood by gathering experts and people living with the disease so the community can see firsthand what their efforts are contributing.

“Again, education is the cornerstone,” Doyle said. “Simply put, the Black community has not been made aware of just how important their blood donation is to patients with sickle cell disease. The education component is coupled with an actual blood drive. Typically, the blood drive is in conjunction with some other event; for example, for our first blood drive on May 1, 2022, Lady Serita Jakes hosted a Coffee & Conversations virtual live event that featured a sickle cell warrior.”

Rader says the partnership has been a success, and the partners have plans to expand the locations it offers these blood drives and establish more community partnerships.

“Building effective partnerships with major community stakeholders helps to better address the health, emergency, and social needs of communities,” Rader said. “Through the American Red Cross/United MegaCare, Inc and The Potter’s House partnership, we aim to build healthier communities.”