Health & WellnessLifestyles

Bahamas Sickle Cell Association blood drive raises awareness

Sabascio Armbrister went to the mall to purchase a new phone, but a chance encounter with a member of the Bahamas Sickle Cell Association (BSCA) prompted him to step forward to donate a pint of blood for the very first time; it could save up to three lives.

“I always wanted to do it, but I was scared to. I’m not scared as much as I used to be, so I decided to just do it. We should give blood to help those who need it,” said Armbrister, following the 10-minute process, which was almost painless, if one discounts the tiniest pinch of a needle at the beginning.

Giving blood is a quick and easy way to save lives. Still, many Bahamians are hesitant to undergo the procedure, unless the person in need is a relative or close friend. The result is a chronic shortage of blood at Princess Margaret Hospital’s Blood Bank, which places patients’ lives at risk.

Chief among them, those diagnosed with sickle cell disease (SCD) – a painful, inherited blood disorder that plague millions worldwide. SCD patients could require multiple blood transfusions over the course of a lifetime.

That’s because sicklers have abnormal hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout the body. It leads to deformed, crescent-shaped blood cells that do not carry oxygen well. They also have a shorter life span than normal. To make matters worse, when these C-shape, red blood cells move through small blood vessels, they could stick together and clog them, causing pain, organ damage and strokes.

“Having this blood drive is not only to replenish the blood supply at the blood bank but it’s also to identify persons who are willing to come forward to donate, so that when we have warriors in need of blood, we would have already collected a pool of potentially willing candidates which could speed up the blood transfusion process and help to preserve lives,” said Kristin Beneby, BSCA president.

Between October to December of last year, Beneby, a married mother of one, had to undergo three blood transfusions herself.

She is not alone. Regular blood transfusions are used to treat anemia and can help prevent other symptoms associated with sickle cell, including strokes and acute chest syndrome, which is when blood flow to the lungs becomes blocked.

“It really is a life-or-death situation when it comes to a sickler needing a blood transfusion. It’s something that needs to happen very quickly to ensure their quality of life. When you come out and donate, you are giving back in a big way,” said Amanda Dean, the association’s secretary.

Dean’s daughter is a sickler. She had her first blood transfusion when she was only six months old. When the now-seven-year-old was hospitalized this past July, a blood screening revealed she had developed antibodies from previous transfusions, making it even more challenging to find a donor.

That’s why blood drives, like the one recently hosted by the BSCA in conjunction with the Danielle Ferguson-Gibbs Foundation, are so important.

In Exuma, BSCA Director Kerisca Kemp organized a similar initiative at Exuma Primary Health Care Centre.

“Most of the persons who participated in the screening were not aware of what sickle cell was or what it meant to have the trait. We shared knowledge of the disease and distributed pamphlets and flyers. We are making inroads, but we have our work cut out for us,” said Kemp.

Among the persons donating blood Saturday was Dameeka Roberts. She was accompanied by her son, Arjay, and her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta.

“I had my mind made up to do this in memory of our soror, Danielle Ferguson-Gibbs. Considering all of the incidents we have in our community that create a need or a strain on the blood bank, it’s imperative that we all take the position to give when we can.”

Roberts’ sorority president, Valderez Miller, of the Nassau, Bahamas alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., presented the Danielle Ferguson-Gibbs Foundation with a $1,000 check.

Ferguson-Gibbs, a former BSCA board member and executive board member of the sorority, died earlier this year from sickle cell disease.

More recently, the sorority lost another member, Taliah Cooper, to SCD.

“We thought it important to always be our sisters’ keeper, even in death. So, we came out to day to support the foundation and the Bahamas Sickle Cell Association,” said Miller.

Another attendee and donor, Joseph Ferguson, viewed his donation as a way to make a difference in the lives of others.

“Every so often, I do this,” said Ferguson, who learned about the event via Facebook.

“It makes me feel like I’ve helped someone. The hospital always needs blood. You might save a life.”

Throughout September, Sickle Cell Awareness Month, the association has focused on raising awareness and educating the wider community about SCD. Throughout the year, the advocacy group works to provide financial support to sickle cell warriors and their families.

“Not only are we working to boost our membership numbers, we are also working to gauge just how prevalent sickle cell is in The Bahamas,” said Beneby.

“We continue our call for free sickle cell screening at birth and during blood drives such as this one, with the goal of creating a National Sickle Cell Registry.”

Other long-term goals of the association include transforming the accident and emergency experience throughout hospitals in The Bahamas; expanding the organization’s physical presence into more Family Islands; establishing a home to provide temporary accommodations for sickle cell warriors from the Family Islands traveling to New Providence for treatment; and the creation, passing and enforcement of a Sickle Cell Disease Care Act.

For those interested in joining the BSCA, there are opportunities to assist in administration, education, social and support, as well as financial and fundraising.

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