RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) -Sickle cell disease is a debilitating illness which often leads to deadly health complications, especially in the African American community.
There is no cure for sickle cell, but one of the most effective forms of relief is blood transfusions. Unfortunately for many patients, this blood is hard to come by. Tiffany Dews knows this all too well.
Years ago, Tiffany was a school teacher. But after she became a mom, her 9 to 5 changed.
“I was a stay at home mom,” Tiffany told 8News Anchor Ava-joye Burnett.
Both of Tiffany’s sons were born with sickle cell disease; the disorder can lead to serious health challenges and excruciating pain.
“You get a child who is crying, ‘Mom, Mom help me, I’m in pain,’ explains Tiffany, “and there is nothing that you can do because they are on morphine and the morphine pump. The doctor or the nurse can possible say, ‘I can’t give your child enough morphine because the pain is immeasurable.’”
The boys are now 12 and 8, trying to live normal lives with a tough disease. Tiffany also has a new career: working at Virginia Blood Services.
There’s now a big push here in central Virginia to get more blood donations from African Americans.
“I think a lot of times, people, they don’t see where [their] blood goes, so it’s hard for them to really think and put their heads around that,” says Michelle Westbay, Marketing Director for Virginia Blood Services. “But in the end, you really are supporting lives.”
Donations help with blood transfusions, and transfusions help to restore a patient’s body when the disease attacks.
There are so many side effects—one of them being stroke—even for kids.
But another major part of the job at Virginia Blood Services is done in labs. Researchers are always looking for rare blood that will go only to patients who desperately need it. In some cases, it’s a patient’s only hope of survival.
Beth Johnson, of Virginia Blood Services, says they handle rare blood in a special way.
“Once we find the rare blood, we stash it away so no body else can have it, except for us and we send it out to re patients who absolutely need it.
Aside from working at Virginia Blood Services, Tiffany Dews is also continuing her work outside of the labs, within local communities.
Her mission is to get more African Americans to donate blood that could help sickle cell patients—like her two sons.
“No one can see the damage it’s doing to their body as they get older,” Tiffany says. “A lot of times people give up, because no one understands the pain that they go though.”
Virginia Blood Services works with community groups to organize blood drives, especially in minority communities. For more information on how to organize a blood drive for your church, school or group, contact Virginia Blood Services.