The Gamma Upsilon chapter of Omega Psi Phi hosted their semi-annual sickle cell blood drive on Feb. 12 at Grant Chapel AME Church, collecting over 18 pints of blood that can potentially save over 50 lives.
It is estimated that over 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease, most of whom are of African descent, and may require blood transfusions throughout their lives to help manage their condition. According to the American Red Cross, Blood donations from individuals of the same race or similar ethnicity and blood type have a unique ability to help patients experiencing a sickle cell crisis.
The organization started hosting blood drives in Wichita 17 years ago but has direct ties to who is considered to be the “father of the blood bank.” Dr. Charles Drew was an African-American surgeon, medical researcher, and member of Amherst College’s Omega Psi Phi fraternity who was a key figure in developing blood plasma processing, storage, and transfusion therapy.
His innovative work led to the first mobile blood collecting unit in February 1941. The model was later used for large-scale production of human plasma and was eventually used as the foundation for blood banks by the US Army and the American Red Cross.
“It’s a national mandate to participate in a blood drive, so we’ve taken it to another level doing two a year because the need in Wichita was so high,” said Harry O. Willis, chairman of the blood drive.
Since then, the Omegas have expanded to hosting the drives two times a year, but there is still a growing need for more blood donations within the Black community.
Sickle cell disease distorts soft and round red blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped, which can cause individuals to experience extreme pain and face life-threatening complications.
Individuals with sickle cell disease can require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lifetime to treat complications of the disease. Unfortunately, frequent transfusions can make finding compatible blood types more difficult when patients develop an immune response against blood from donors that are not closely matched to the recipient’s blood.
Harry and the Omegas will host another blood drive Labor Day weekend, which he anticipates will be filled up with appointments once details are released.