The Jones’ family ties to blood donation with the American Red Cross run deep. Jeanne, a member of the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metro Chapter Red Cross Board of Directors, her husband, Keith and their children give as often as they can in the hopes of savings lives. “It has become a family affair over the past couple of years with our oldest son now donating regularly with us after ‘gifting’ me the Christmas present of a mother-son blood donation,” said Jeanne Jones.
Keith “End Zone” Jones learned about the significance of blood donation at an early age. Unfortunately, three members of his family died from complications of sickle cell disease. Hearing about the devastating effects of sickle cell on his aunts and uncles was confusing and sad for him as he was training to be a football star. Today, other members of his family continue to fight against sickle cell daily.
Sickle cell disease is the most common genetic blood disorder in the United States, and regular blood transfusions are critical to manage extreme pain and life-threatening complications. Sickle cell disease distorts soft and round red blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped. As a result, blood has difficulty flowing smoothly and carrying oxygen to the rest of the body, which may lead to severe pain, tissue and organ damage, anemia, and even strokes. In the United States, it is estimated that over 100,000 people have sickle cell disease and may require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lifetime — as many as 100 units of blood per patient each year.
Unfortunately, frequent transfusions can make finding compatible blood types more difficult when patients develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to the blood of the recipient. One in three African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell disease.
Brenda Appleton of Indianapolis, Indiana, is one of Keith Jones’ aunts. As the youngest of 13 children, she grew up watching sickle cell loom over her family like a storm cloud. Only two of her siblings do not possess the sickle cell trait. Appleton watched her brothers and sisters go through sickle cell crises as children, missing school and in constant, sometimes unbearable pain. Three of those siblings died from sickle cell complications, one at the age of 33.
When asked about the impact of both having the sickle cell trait and growing up with its prevalence in her family, Appleton replied, “Emotionally, it’s trauma. Lots of wondering if this was going to happen to me.”
She also grew up learning empathy. “No one gets to choose what their family is going to have,” she added. At age 63, Appleton continues to educate herself about sickle cell and does what she can to maintain her health.
Keith Jones will continue to give blood and platelets regularly. He will also keep encouraging his family and friends to give. He said, “Blood donation is a single act that can impact lives directly.”
Learn more about blood donation and schedule an appointment to give at redcrossblood.org.