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Time to make sickle cell awareness a daily priority

Special to the Trice Edney News Wire from the Richmond Free Press

By Florence Neal Cooper-Smith
On July 7, 2016

Courtesy Photo: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

( – Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. The disease causes red blood cells to function abnormally. The cells become rigid and curve into sickle shapes. The red blood cells become hard and sticky and they die early, which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells.

The sickle shape makes it difficult for the cells to flow through tiny blood vessels and blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to vital organs of the body. These blockages can cause repeated episodes of severe pain, organ damage, strokes, serious infections and other medical complications.

A person with SCD is born with the disorder. It is not contagious. People cannot catch the disorder by being around a person who has it. Healthy parents, each having inherited a sickle cell gene from their parent, has the probability of passing the gene to their offspring.

It is estimated that SCD affects 90,000 to 100,000 people in the United States, mainly African Americans. One in 500 African Americans is living with the disease and one in 36,000 Hispanic Americans are born with the disease.

Since Virginia added hemoglobinopathy screening to its newborn testing in 1989, on average 75 newborns have been identified yearly with SCD in the state. Many parents do not know that they have the sickle cell trait. Testing people of child-bearing age is very important, as well as prenatal women.

Nationally, the sickle cell trait occurs in approximately one in 12 African Americans. Approximately 3 million people living in the United States have the trait and many are unaware of their status. Medical treatment, management and care have made great strides since Congress passed the 1972 Sickle Cell Anemia Control Act, but we have not found the cure.

Research continues at many universities throughout the world as we try to “Break the Sickle Cycle.” Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical campus has many research projects that receive some grant founding. Family, friends, organizations, churches and corporations are needed to help spread awareness about SCD. Blood, bone marrow and financial donations will help Break the Sickle Cycle.

Though World Sickle Cell Day, June 16, is now over, let us offer a prayer that soon and very soon we will break the sickle cell cycle.

Florence Neal Cooper-Smith is retired director of the Sickle Cell Anemia Awareness Program at the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center

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