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Donate Blood: American Red Cross celebrates Black History Month

COVID-19 survivors are especially needed to address a convalescent plasma shortage.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In celebration of Black History Month, the American Red Cross is encouraging people to give blood. It's all about saving lives as well as honoring the legacies of African Americans, such as Dr. Charles Drew and Dr. Jerome Holland.

Dr. Drew was a surgeon and medical director of the first Red Cross blood bank in 1941. Drew’s research about the storage and shipment of blood plasma proved that blood could be stored for transfusions. Many of the processes he developed are still in use today.

Dr. Holland became the first Black chair of the American Red Cross Board of Governors in 1979. While serving on the board, Holland showed a passion for blood research. He also encouraged Red Cross regions to integrate their volunteers so important services could be extended to the entire community, regardless of a person's ethnicity or background.

“The legacies that they've left us have allowed us to serve our community,” said Angela Broome Powley, American Red Cross Blood Donor Services Regional Executive. “They’ve also allowed us to make sure that the blood products that are needed by patients are safe and delivered in a timely manner so that they're there when blood donors need the products.”

Donors can create a legacy of their own simply by rolling up a sleeve to give blood, platelets or plasma to help patients in need. COVID-19 survivors are especially needed to address a convalescent plasma shortage. These individuals may have antibodies in their plasma that could help patients currently battling the virus.

The Red Cross is testing blood, platelet and plasma donations for COVID-19 antibodies. The test may indicate if the donor’s immune system has produced antibodies to this coronavirus, regardless of whether an individual developed COVID-19 symptoms. Red Cross antibody tests will be helpful to identify individuals who have COVID-19 antibodies and may now help current coronavirus patients in need of convalescent plasma transfusions.

Convalescent plasma is a type of blood donation collected from COVID-19 survivors that have antibodies that may help patients who are actively fighting the virus. Plasma from whole blood donations that test positive for COVID-19 antibodies may be used to help COVID-19 patients.

"We want to make sure that African-American donors know that we need their blood products, specifically for sickle cell patients,” Powley said. “Sickle cell is a disease that affects over 100,000 Americans. It's very important that we have those blood products needed for those patients.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, each Red Cross blood drive and donation center is following the highest standards of safety and infection control, and additional precautions. That includes temperature checks, social distancing and face coverings for donors and staff. To protect the health and safety of Red Cross staff and donors, it is important that individuals who do not feel well or believe they may be ill with COVID-19 postpone donation.

Blood donation appointments can be made by downloading the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org, calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) or enabling the Blood Donor Skill on any Alexa Echo device. As a thank-you for helping ensure a stable blood supply, those who come to give this February will receive a $5 Amazon.com Gift Card via email, courtesy of Amazon. To learn more, visit the American Red Cross website.