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Family Battles Sickle Cell Anemia

Pacific Northwest Blood Services Region

January 10, 2012
 

13-year-old girl and her family battle sickle cell anemia through education and volunteer efforts.

Latay Hammick, 13, promotes the need for donors as she herself faces a blood disorder. Give patients like Latay a fighting chance; donate with the Red Cross and join the Be The Match and Donate Life Northwest registries.

Portland, Ore. -- Latay Hammick is ready for graduation as she finishes up the eighth grade at Vernon K-8 School in Portland, Oregon; she is excited for freshman year of high school, still undecided on which school she’ll attend, but she is ready for new adventures.

For Latay and her family, there’s more to be excited about than a new school year. It’s also been over a year since Latay has needed blood transfusions at Doernbecher Children's Hospital, where she had her last medical emergency.

When Latay was born, she was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, a disorder that causes red blood cells to form an abnormal crescent shape. Because of this rare shape, sickle cells are fragile and only last about ten to twenty days in the bloodstream, while healthy cells typically survive for about 120 days.

This means patients like Latay are chronically short on their red blood cell count. Since these cells play a critical role of transporting oxygen throughout the body, they must be replaced. To help relieve symptoms of anemia in sickle cell patients, blood transfusions are necessary.

When she was two years old, Latay had open heart surgery. Many pints of donated blood were used for a successful operation. “It took a few hours, and while the sickle cell blood was coming out, she had pints of good blood coming in,” said Tiffany Lamberth, who is Latay’s mother. “When a sickle cell child goes into the hospital, it’s called a crisis. Latay usually stays there for three to five days.”

Leonard Lamberth, Latay’s grandfather, sits on the board of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Oregon. The family is very knowledgeable on the blood disorder, but because symptoms often start as fatigue, infections, and episodes of pain, it used to be difficult to determine the cause. “Now that Latay is older, she knows how to handle it,” Tiffany said. “She knows what to look for, and so do her school teachers and friends.”

With a rare blood type, donating means a lot to Leonard. He said rare blood donations provide a great benefit because it’s hard for hospitals to find matches for patients with rare blood types. Leonard said, “If you don’t give, the chance of matching blood is much more difficult.”

Diane Lamberth is Latay’s grandmother, and said she feels fortunate. “Latay has never had to wait for her blood type during an emergency,” Diane said. Because of that, the family is grateful for blood donors. “Somebody stepped up to donate,” Leonard said.

“We are big advocates of the Red Cross and donating blood and anything we can do to help - we’re there,” Tiffany said. Latay’s family has done just that; volunteering for numerous blood drives and outreach events. Last summer, Latay and her family held the Red Cross parade banner for Northeast Portland’s “Good in the Neighborhood” event. Even more recently, the Allen Temple CME Church held a dedicated blood drive in Latay’s honor. “Faith-based drives like these help get the word out to the community, friends, and family.” Tiffany said.

“People should give blood – you might not be able to give a thousand dollars, or ten thousand dollars, or a fifty-thousand dollar benefit, but everybody can try to give blood,” Leonard said. “The thing about blood is, it’s not black or white, it’s not Asian or Hispanic, it’s about all people helping each other.”

Latay is not alone in her rare blood type. Donated blood is needed to help save the lives of organ transplant patients, cancer patients, accident victims, premature babies, and others. Although ethnicity does not necessarily determine blood compatibility, blood transfusions from blood donors of the same ethnic background help recipients avoid complications. African Americans sometimes have subtle differences in red blood cell proteins, increasing the likelihood that a suitable blood donor for a recipient will be someone with a similar ethnic background.

Be the Match

Every day, thousands of patients with leukemia and other life-threatening diseases search for a marrow donor who can make their transplant possible. 70% will not find a match in their family and will turn to Be The Match Registry, the largest and most diverse registry of volunteer marrow donors in the world. Each year, 10,000 patients need a marrow transplant from an unrelated donor, but only half receive one. Be The Match Foundation needs your help to make sure every patient counts! Visit their website at marrow.org, or call 1-800-MARROW2 (1-800-627-7692).

Donate Life Northwest

More than 112,560 people are currently awaiting an organ transplant. Of those waiting, 55.04% represent ethnic minorities. One donor can help save more than 50 lives, yet 18 people in the United States will die today awaiting an organ transplant. Donate Life Northwest urges people to help save lives by joining the Donate Life Northwest Organ, Eye and Tissue Registry. For more information about the registry, visit donatelifenw.org, or call 1-800-452-1369.

Those who wish to speak to Latay Hammick, her family, or a Be The Match or Donate Life Northwest representative in person will have the opportunity to do so at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blood, Bone Marrow, and Organ, Eye and Tissue Donor Registry Drive.

This important event takes place on Saturday, January 21 from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Red Cross Portland Donor Center (3131 N. Vancouver Avenue). In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., community members can donate blood, learn more about bone marrow, organ, eye, and tissue donation, and sign up for the donor registries at the event. The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blood, Bone Marrow, and Organ, Eye and Tissue Donor Registry Drive is co-hosted by the American Red Cross, Be The Match and Donate Life Northwest.

Also at the event will be Donate Life Northwest heart recipient Rosie Tabb. Rosie has worked as an American Red Cross donor recruiter and received blood transfusions during her heart transplant. To make a potentially lifesaving blood donation at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blood, Bone Marrow, and Organ, Eye and Tissue Donor Registry Drive, please call 1-800-RED CROSS or schedule your appointment now.

All participants at this year’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blood, Bone Marrow, and Organ, Eye and Tissue Donor Registry Drives will receive a free Martin Luther King, Jr. commemorative lapel pin (while supplies last). This blood drive will also be an opportunity for the Red Cross to share with donors about our volunteer program, inform them about disaster preparedness, and share with other volunteers about volunteer programs that they may be involved in.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. symbolized equal access for all. This includes equal opportunity for the lifesaving gift of blood, bone marrow and organ, eye and tissue transplants. You can make an incredible difference with your donation.

About the American Red Cross

The Red Cross provides nearly half of the nation’s blood supply (collecting more than six million units a year from volunteer donors) to patients in 3,000 hospitals around the country through its national network. Founded in 1949, the Pacific Northwest Regional Blood Services of the Red Cross strives to collect nearly 5,000 donations weekly to meet the needs of accident victims, cancer patients, and other ill or injured people who need transfusions. It serves more than 80 hospitals in Oregon, Washington and Alaska. Call 1-800-RED CROSS, schedule your appointment online or sponsor a blood drive.

About Donate Life Northwest

Donate Life Northwest is dedicated to saving and enhancing lives by increasing the number of people enrolled on the organ, eye and tissue donor registry, and has created three easy ways to register: online at donatelifenw.org; by requesting a donor code on your driver’s license at any DMV office; by paper form. The nonprofit organization has been educating Oregon and SW Washington residents about the importance of donation since 1975. For more information: donatelifenw.org; or call 1-800-452-1369.

About Be The Match

Be The Match Registry is the donor registry operated by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). We’ve been helping patients receive the transplants they need for more than 20 years. Be The Match Foundation raises funds to help patients who need a bone marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant find a donor and receive treatment. Every year, 10,000 patients with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell and other life-threatening diseases need a marrow transplant from an unrelated donor, but only half receive one. Half is not enough. Every Patient Counts! For more information, visit our website at marrow.org, or call 1-800-MARROW2 (1-800-627-7692).