Sickle Cell Awareness Month Highlights Need for Diverse Blood Supply

September 4, 2012

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month – the perfect time for the American Red Cross to engage blood donors from the African American community and focus attention on the Blue Tie Tag program.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Sickle Cell Disease affects 90,000 to 100,000 Americans and occurs in one out of every 500 Black or African American births. Blood transfusion plays a major role in the treatment of the disease.

The Blue Tie Tag program is a blood donor recruitment initiative designed to increase the diversity of the local blood supply and help provide better blood transfusion support for patients with Sickle Cell Disease.

Blood, like many other genetic factors, is best matched among people of the same ethnic group.  In the case of patients with Sickle Cell Disease, the best match will most likely come from an African American donor. However, African Americans have been historically underrepresented in the blood donor population, making it more challenging for the Red Cross to find the unique donor matches needed to treat Sickle Cell Disease patients.

The Blue Tie Tag program, which was implemented in the Northern California Region in August 2010, allows African American donors to designate their blood donation for use with a patient suffering from Sickle Cell Disease. If the donation is not matched to a patient with Sickle Cell Disease after 21 days, then it will become available to any patient in need.

In just two years, the program has seen remarkable results.

“Since implementing the Blue Tie Tag program,” Donor Recruitment Manager Theresa Evangelista said. “We have seen a 31 percent increase in the number of African American blood donors in the Northern California Region.”

To kick-off Sickle Cell Awareness Month, the Red Cross will hold a blood drive on Sept. 1 in honor of Tyra Watkins, a Vallejo teenager with Sickle Cell Disease. Tyra’s struggle with the disease has caused her to endure many blood transfusions. So many, in fact, that now she can receive only very specific blood that has been matched beyond the traditional ABO typing. Tyra’s blood drive will be at Second Baptist Church (1170 Benicia Road) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Anyone interested in donating blood for the Blue Tie Tag program can donate at any Red Cross blood donation center (Oakland, Pleasant Hill, Pleasanton, Newark and San Jose) or mobile blood drive (including Tyra’s drive) in the Bay Area. Donors just need to mention to a Red Cross staff member onsite that they want to designate their donation for the Blue Tie Tag program.

Individuals who are 17 years of age (16 with parental permission), meet height and weight requirements (at least 110 pounds based on height) and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. Call 510.773.2407 for more information about the Blue Tie Tag program. Call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767) to make an appointment to donate blood. You can also schedule an appointment online.

About the American Red Cross

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies more than 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or join our blog at