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Family aims to debunk blood donation myths within African American community

Family aims to debunk blood donation myths within African American community

FISHERS, Ind. (WISH) – January is National Blood Donor month. It’s a time to encourage people who can donate blood, to become regular donors.

The Versiti Blood Center of Indiana says they need 550 people daily to meet patient needs.

It’s a number that may sound like a lot, but it’s a number the Roberts family of Fishers says is doable.

“Everybody’s situation is different. Everybody’s story is different. But if just one person tells the story of how they overcame, that can help everybody else,” said Christopher Roberts.

Roberts and his family know first hand what it means to overcome.

A few days after their youngest daughter Mariah was born, Tamara and Christopher were told Mariah has Sickle Cell Disease.

Sickle Cell Disease is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders that blocks blood flow to certain parts of the body. It can cause blood clots, pain, and serious infection.

Mariah’s symptoms kicked in at around three years old and by age four, her spleen was removed. During the same time, Christopher says her iron levels dropped so low, a blood transfusion was necessary.

Tamara says watching her daughter receive something that wasn’t “from them” was hard.

But, they turned to their faith and after seeing the results of the transfusion, their perspective changed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Sickle Cell Disease effects one out of every 365 African American births.

The Roberts partnered with Versiti Blood Center of Indiana to learn more about blood donation in their community.

“When we get to patients that have more complex disease and multiple transfusions, they’re going to need units that have more extended typing and sometimes those units of blood are only coming from people of their same racial or ethnic group. In Indiana the majority of our donors have been Caucasian,” said Dr. Dan Waxman, Senior Medical Director at Indiana Blood Center.

“I want people to know that we have special blood. Give it away! Share it!” Tamara said excitedly.

The Roberts have become advocates for blood donation hoping to debunk myths that Tamara says hold people in their community back.

“They think that someone is taking something away from them. It’s superstitious. But your body makes blood everyday. It’s our culture too because I think a lot of it is unlearned. You don’t know. And what you don’t know, you don’t do,” said Tamara.

Education is a big part of the Roberts’ family mission. So is hosting blood drives at their local church and schools.

“As Mariah gets older, we have to teach her to become independent. She may be OK now, but we never know when a crisis will come back and she may need another transfusion,” said Christopher.

Mariah is now 11-years-old and has written two books about growing up with Sickle Cell.

“I hope they encourage other children who are sick. And to tell people not to be scared of donating blood, it will only help people,” said Mariah.