Originally created 09/27/00

Sickle cell day helps educate



Thomas Burton has become an expert on sickle cell anemia.

He can rattle off the names of medical treatments and physical ailments associated with the blood disease.

The expertise comes from living with the disease, which often sends him to a clinic to treat a sickle cell "crisis," a state of drastic and painful reduction in his blood circulation.

"As far as living with sickle cell, I can tell you all about it, since I've been living with it for 33 years," Mr. Burton said. "When I inform myself about it, I can go out into the community and inform."

Information was the cornerstone of the sickle cell blood drive at May Park on Tuesday that was sponsored by the Shepeard Community Blood Center and reflected a joint effort of several community and medical groups.

This year's blood drive showed an increase in participation, said Mary Brown, genetic counselor at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers, especially with the area's minority community.

"Each year, we have been able to increase our number (of donors)," she said.

Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder that affects the red blood cells of an estimated 50,000 people in the country. Although people from many ethnic groups can have the disease, it is most common in blacks.

That is why blood drive organizers spent months reaching out to the area's black community to increase awareness and blood donors, said Robin Steinhilper, community relations coordinator for the Shepeard Community Blood Center.

"This has been more successful this year in terms of support," she said. This year's outreach efforts included tapping black churches and community groups.

Targeting is important to find close blood matches between donors and patients who, because of similar ethnic backgrounds, share similar minor blood types, said Emmitt Walker, health education coordinator at Medical College of Georgia's Sickle Cell Center.

For sickle cell disease patients, blood transfusions are a necessary and in many cases frequent part of their treatment.

Mr. Burton said that although many people still hold misconceptions about the disease, events such as the blood drive serve to inform.

"People are starting to listen and starting to learn about it," he said.

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (706) 823-3227.