January is National Blood Donor Month, and this 13-year-old with sickle cell disease is appealing to people all around the country to consider becoming a donor.
“They’re giving me a life,” Tymia Green, 13, of Georgetown, South Carolina said of donors to InsideEdition.com. “They are superheroes for me and other children, so they’re saving my life, and I thank them.”
While healthy red blood cells are round, Tymia’s genetic disease makes her red blood cells can sickle, or become c-shaped. The sickled cells can block blood flow, which leads to a pain crisis, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“They have this incredible pain syndrome that is basically the consequence of lack of blood flow to the tissue,” Dr. Yvette Miller, the executive medical officer of the American Red Cross, told InsideEdition.com. “It’s like having a heart attack.”
Tymia experiences pain crises every six to eight weeks. “My pain feels like a knife stabbing in and out, and it can happen anywhere in my body so it’s kind of painful,” she explained.
Her mom, Susie Green, said she feels helpless “watching her go from that energetic child to not moving at all, pale, not responding, sometimes because she’s in so much pain. She’s not the Tymia I’m used to seeing and knowing.”
To stop the pain crisis, Tymia receives a blood transfusion of either one or two units of blood.
“When I get the blood transfusion, I get stronger, happier; I can be there for my family and I can just be me again,” Tymia said. “It feels pretty great when I get blood transfusions.”
But the blood she so desperately needs is not always readily available. Tymia has experienced at least five instances where she was hospitalized during a pain crisis when the doctors weren’t able to find the right blood.
Most recently, she had to wait nearly 10 hours before they were able to transport enough units for her from out-of-state.
“I was like, ‘Mom, we’ve got to do something. Please let the doctor come in here and say they have my blood.’ It took like 10 or eight hours. I was just sitting there crying, bawling my eyes out,” Tymia recalled. “As soon as the doctor came in and said, ‘We have the blood,’ I just started praising God and crying and holding my mama’s hand because it felt special they found my blood.”
Like Tymia, more than 90% of people with sickle cell disease are of African descent, according to the American Red Cross.
“African-Americans share certain antigens on their red blood cells that are more common in African-Americans, and we really do want to closely match the blood type between the donor and the recipient for someone like Tymia who requires frequent transfusion,” Miller said. “So it’s critically important for African-Americans to donate blood to support those with sickle cell disease.”
In fact, it’s important for people of all backgrounds and blood types to donate. “Our blood supply needs to reflect our patient population, which is diverse,” Miller said.
Most people 17 years and older and weighing more than 110 pounds are eligible to donate one unit of blood five or six times a year. However, each patient coming into the hospital with massive trauma often need upward of 10 units of blood, which is why it’s important keep shelves stocked.
“When there’s a natural disaster, when there’s situations such as mass shooting, trauma accidents, we have to have a steady supply of blood,” Miller said. “If there’s a situation where we’re unable to specifically identify the blood type of the recipient, we would transfuse them with O-negative until we can identify their type.”
January is designated as National Blood Donor Awareness month as the American Red Cross always experiences a shortage of blood in January and February. To learn more about donating blood, or to find out where you can donate, visit the American Red Cross's website by clicking here.