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The Blood in Your Veins Can Ease the Suffering of Others

American Red Cross, Metro New York North (MNYN) Chapter Board Members pose with sickle cell awareness advocate Ashley Flowers at the celebration of the newly renovated Jill and John Coyle Blood Donor Center. [Pictured l-r: MNYN Board Chair Lisa Cooper, MNYN Chief Executive Officer Stephanie Dunn Ashley, Ashley Flowers, MNYN Chair Emeritus and Greater New York Regional Board Chair Jill Coyle]
By Stephanie Dunn Ashley

Last week, Ashley Flowers spoke at the opening celebration of our Greenwich Chapter headquarters about what it means to live with sickle cell disease — and to raise her children with the same genetic disorder. “When it’s your kids, things are framed for you very differently. To see your kid have to sit there for days because there might not be a matching donor, to watch your child struggle and suffer knowing they need that transfusion and knowing there is a shortage,” said Ashley, trailing off.

For nearly 100,000 Americans nationwide, a genetic distortion of red blood cells results in chronic health problems — severe pain, tissue and organ damage, anemia, and even strokes. These red blood cells, which are hard and crescent shaped instead of soft and round, make it difficult for blood to flow smoothly and carry oxygen to the rest of the body. For people with sickle cell disease, blood transfusions provide a lifesaving treatment by increasing the number of normal red blood cells in the body to better deliver oxygen throughout the body and unblock blood vessels.

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month, and I think many people would be surprised to learn that a sickle cell patient can need up to 100 units of blood each year to treat each flare-up of the chronic condition.

Fortunately, although there is much more work to be done to advance a cure, Ashley has been able to exceed her own childhood imaginations of what her life could be like – because people like you and I donated blood.

“I didn’t think I would get to a place where I would get married, have more children, be a business owner,” she told the room of Red Crossers at our Greenwich headquarters. “That’s something I would lay in my hospital bed and dream about. I would talk to my brother to the point where I would make him cry and tell him ‘These are things I want for you to do because I can’t.’ Every person who donated a unit of blood helped push me to the point where I have spent two years without a sickle cell crisis.”

We all have the ability and power to help people like Ashley, her children, and thousands of other Americans with sickle cell disease. Here in Greenwich, the Red Cross just celebrated the renovation and modernization of our state-of-the-art Jill and John Coyle Blood Donor Center. This facility collects whole blood, which is the donation process many of us are already familiar with, as well as apheresis donation. I recently donated platelets for the first time. The apheresis process takes between 1.5-3 hours, compared to less than an hour for a whole blood donation. But when I learned platelets are a vital element of cancer treatments and organ transplant procedures, as well as other surgical procedures, I knew I had to make the time for this donation. My advice if you are going to donate platelets: bring a blanket and think of a good movie to watch to pass the time.

The need for blood is constant, but we are in particularly tough times right now as the Red Cross recently announced a national blood shortage. Summer, amidst busy travel seasons and school breaks, has historically been a challenging time of year to collect blood. Climate-driven disasters have exacerbated this trend, with a record-breaking 23 billion-dollar disasters hitting the United States in 2023, and Hurricane Idalia alone caused more than 700 units of blood and platelets to go uncollected. This past August alone saw a shortfall of 30,000 donations.

We need people like you to donate blood so that people like Ashley and her children can live their lives without pain, not to mention all those who rely on blood donors for things like cancer treatments, organ transplants, surgeries, and more. You can find a blood drive near you or schedule an appointment at our permanent Red Cross blood facility here in Greenwich, by visiting www.redcrossblood.org.

 

Stephanie Dunn Ashley, Chief Executive Officer, American Red Cross, Metro New York North Chapter.
Stephanie has worked and volunteered in the nonprofit sector in Greenwich for over twenty years. Her current role as CEO of the MNYN chapter of the American Red Cross began in March 2020. Stephanie overseas Westchester and Rockland Counties in New York, the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, and Greenwich, Connecticut for all lines of service of the Red Cross. From 2007-2020 Stephanie was Director of Fundraising Special Events for Greenwich Hospital where she was the leader of the fundraising team that planned and executed over fifty galas, major fundraisers, cultivation events, and community events resulting in needed funds for the hospital. Previously, Stephanie worked at Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, where she headed up alumnae advancement within the development office. Stephanie is also a volunteer EMT with Greenwich EMS and President of the Cos Cob Fire Police Patrol.

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