Sickle cell disease, blood donation and charity

By Tahirah Muhammad | Last updated: Sep 18, 2018 - 4:14:01 PM

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Guest arriving at the Overbrook Environmental Education Center to register, donate blood and learn more about sickle cell disease. (r) Sis. Kimberly Muhammad operating the registration table.

“Whoever brings a good deed will have tenfold like it, and whoever brings an evil deed, will be recompensed only with the like of it, and they shall not be wronged”—Holy Qur’an, Surah 6:160

The month of September always brings celebrations from within the sickle cell community with awareness campaigns, fundraisers for more research and blood drives to mark the month of Sickle Cell Awareness.

The hereditary illness, sickle cell disease (SCD) is a group of disorders that affects hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that delivers oxygen to cells throughout the body. There are many genetic types of the disease, and the severity of symptoms varies from person to person. Some people have mild symptoms, while others are frequently hospitalized for more serious complications.

People with this disorder have atypical hemoglobin molecules called hemoglobin S, which can distort red blood cells into a sickle, or crescent, shape. The signs and symptoms of sickle cell disease are caused by the sickling of red blood cells. When red blood cells sickle, they breakdown prematurely, which can lead to anemia. Anemia can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, and delayed growth and development in children.

The rapid breakdown of red blood cells may also cause yellowing of the eyes and skin, which are signs of jaundice. Painful episodes can occur when sickled red blood cells, which are stiff and inflexible, get stuck in small blood vessels. These episodes deprive tissues and organs of oxygen-rich blood and can lead to organ damage, especially in the lungs, kidneys, spleen, and brain, according to the National Library of Medicine. 

Although these complications can be life-threatening, many people with sickle cell disease live full and complete lives in spite of this chronic illness. With science being on the cutting edge with research in genetic therapy as a cure and sickle cell disease specific medications being introduced by big pharmaceutical companies, such as Endari (a protein powder consisting of L-Glutamine, which decreases the amount of painful episodes)—many children and adults with sickle cell depend on frequent blood transfusions or apheresis to maintain healthy lives. The act of blood donation is important to those with sickle cell simply because without it constant hospitalizations can occur, along with organ failure and possibly even death.

Blood donation is taboo in the Black community and even more in the Muslim community, due to many myths, lack of education and misconceptions about the act and importance of blood donation. For someone who has sickle cell disease and requires chronic blood transfusions, not only is receiving blood from someone who has the same blood type important but so is receiving blood from someone of the same ethnicity.

The importance of receiving blood from someone who is genetically and ethnically related to you can decrease or even prevent the effects of Delayed Hemolytic Transfusion Reactions (DHTR). This occurs when someone has had ample blood transfusions, transplants or even pregnancies throughout their lifetime and has developed antibody responses in the recipient precipitated by re-exposure to a non-ABO red cell antigen previously introduced by transfusion, transplantation or pregnancy. When receiving blood from someone who has similar biological composition, the recipient is more likely to receive the same antibodies and prevent DHTR from occurring.

In essence, Black people should donate blood to Black people simply because we should want for our brother or sister what we want for ourselves—life. A popular quote of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad is “Accept Your Own and Be Yourself.” This saying rings true for the Believer living with sickle cell disease and needing the support of his or her Muslim brother or sister to donate blood in order to continue to have healthy lives.

Oftentimes, they are not supported by their brother and sisters of faith and are forced to receive blood from those outside of the Ummah (Muslim community). The lack of support may be due to many myths circulated throughout our Ummah about the safety, efficacy and Islamic ruling of blood donation.

With support from the Holy Qur’an we know that, Islam enjoins preserving human life and protecting it against all potential harm and hardship, while ensuring peace and security for all human beings. In Surah (chapter) 2:173 of the Holy Qur’an, Allah (God) says “He has only forbidden to you dead animals, blood, the flesh of swine, and that which has been dedicated to other than Allah. But whoever is forced by necessity, neither desiring it nor transgressing its limit, there is no sin upon him. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.”

Therefore, one can donate and receive blood if this does not cause him or her any harm. It is permissible also to make this request from a Muslim or someone else for the purpose of saving lives. In most cases, blood transfusions are considered necessary and indispensable, since from a medical perspective, it may be impossible for a particular patient to survive without it.

Therefore, whoever donates his or her blood to save the lives of people, indeed, he gets a good reward for that if he does so for the sake of Allah. The Holy Qur’an states in Surah 99:7-8 “So whoever does an atom’s weight of good will see it, and whoever does an atom’s weight of evil will see it.”

Giving blood is a way to help others in need. This form of charity is a way to live up to the values of Islam in real time, by giving something that is sacred and divine, life. The Believers of Muhammad Mosque No. 12 in Philadelphia did just that, with their participation in the “Transition with Power: Blue-Tag It For Sickle Cell Blood Drive,” this past June 19, World Sickle Cell Day and Juneteenth. The community of Believers donated over 40 units of blood specifically to those living with sickle cell and many were inspired to learn more about the disease and donate blood again in the future.

This initiative was lead by this writer, Tahirah Muhammad, founder of Transition With Power, an advocacy group for young adults with sickle cell disease who are in need of assistance with transitioning from pediatric care to adult care; she also lives with sickle cell disease.

Tahirah Muhammad, MPH is a sickle cell warrior and advocate.