Health Headlines: Treating sickle cell disease with “blood twins”

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Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 10:28 AM CDT
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BALTIMORE, Maryland - (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Sickle-cell disease affects one hundred thousand Americans, whose blood cell shape resembles a crescent-moon, instead of being round and healthy. The defective cells don’t carry oxygen, so patients must undergo transfusions. Blood donors exist but they must be a perfect match. They’re called ‘blood twins.’ We meet a young Pennsylvania dad who lives a full life thanks to one of these rare donors.

Malick Burrow was born with sickle-cell disease.  Both his parents were carriers.

Michelle Erickson, MD Medical Director of Blood Resources at WellSpan Health explains, “The cells themselves are defective. They stretch into this sickle shape and they won’t move through the blood vessels properly. They can’t get through and deliver the oxygen.”

Malick undergoes monthly blood transfusions, which remove sickle cells and replace them with healthy red blood cells. His rare blood requires a perfect donor match, known as ‘blood twins.’

Doctor Erickson says, “Most people think of a, b and o, and then they think of whether you’re positive or negative. Positive or negative means the d antigen. But there are many more blood antigens than just those.”

Doctor Erikson says all the blood variants would fill up a phone book, but each one of Malick’s blood antigens must match those of his blood twin donor or the body reacts.

“A patient receiving a poorly matched blood unit would have a blood transfusion reaction and it could be quite severe. It might induce hemolysis, so that those red blood cells would start to pop and break apart.” Explains Doctor Erikson.

Malick jokingly refers to the blood-twin transfusion as his ‘oil change,’ but it is terribly exhausting, physically.

“It’s not like hard to where I leave there and I’m exhausted, you know mentally wise,” Malick says.

He’s determined to set an example for his kids, who carry the sickle-cell trait, to never ever give up.

Mallick says, “I try to make it as normal as I can, because if I don’t, then you can go down a mentally wrong spiral.”

Doctor Erikson says, “There’s a blood twin for everybody, so we are looking for those twins to help our special patients.”

Malick is one of the lucky ones who found a blood twin.

Hospitals and blood banks need blood desperately due to aging donors and the effect of COVID-19. You might be the blood twin who makes a real difference. Donors do not need to match ethnicity to be a blood match.

Contributors to this news report include Donna Parker, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer, Roque Correa, Editor.