Durham woman's battle with sickle cell highlights need for more Black blood donors

Joel Brown Image
Friday, January 6, 2023
Durham woman's illness highlights need for more Black blood donors
A young Triangle woman is doing her part attract more Black people to blood donation.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A young Triangle woman is doing her part to attract more Black people to blood donation.

The blood supply across the country and here at home has hit emergency-level lows this year, but the blood supply also needs to be more diverse.

"I want to be an advocate for sickle cell and people like me," said Shanelle Bynum, who if you didn't know her, would have no idea the Durham 20-year-old suffers from a potentially deadly chronic illness.

Bynum is one of 100,000 Americans living with sickle cell anemia. Her mom, Vikki Campbell, recorded her daughter's cries in the hospital through one of her last bouts with the disease. It's an inherited red blood cell disorder that distorts the cells into sickle-like shapes; blocking small blood vessels, triggering the anemia and unimaginable pain.

Bynum describes the pain as a full-body migraine, but 10 times worse.

"Excruciating pain, like everywhere. All over. My back, shoulders, neck, everything was hurting. It's like, whoosh. Like a wave," she said.

The 2020 Northern High School graduate manages her complications with lots of prescriptions and herbal medications, but there's no cure for sickle cell. Monthly blood transfusions do provide relief.

"I get two units of blood, per transfusion treatment, which is two bags of blood," Bynum said.

Campbell told AB11 they were trying to ween her off having transfusions and that it was difficult.

"Every two or three weeks, she was in the hospital," Vikki said.

Sickle cell disease affects African Americans at much higher rates. About 1 in every 365 African American births. But there's a desperate need for a more diverse blood supply. Patients benefit most from blood transfusions from people of the same race.

Shanelle and Vikki organized a blood drive last fall that attracted dozens of Black donors. Only five percent of blood donors are of African ancestry. They are hoping to change the math.

"We want to reach our community, our black community to donate blood, to come out and donate," said Bynum.

The pair is making plans for additional blood drives.

"Just a little bit of your time, a little bit of your patience can do a lot for a lot of people," Campbell added.

You have a chance to become a blood donor. The 3rd annual ABC11 Together Blood Drive is Wednesday, January 11 from 8 am - 6 pm at three different locations in Raleigh, Durham and Fayetteville.

  • Raleigh - Marriott Raleigh Crabtree Valley
  • Durham - Aria Cultural Center
  • Fayetteville - Tony Rand Student Center, Fayetteville Technical Community College

Registration can be found here.