CHICAGOSept. 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — The Illinois Medical District (IMD) and American Red Cross of Illinois are partnering to draw attention to sickle cell disease and its treatment. During National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, the organizations are calling on Chicagoans—especially minority communities affected by sickle cell disease—to donate blood to treat conditions such as sickle cell anemia and reduce disparities in health care for minorities.

Sickle cell anemia is one form of an inherited blood disease. The sickle cell trait causes red blood cells to turn from a soft, round shape to a firm, sickle form. The abnormally shaped cells can block blood flow to bones, muscles and organs, causing episodes of extreme pain. In some cases, such a sickle cell crisis can be life-threatening.

Diverse Blood Donors Change Lives for Sickle Cell Patients

Every ethnic and racial group includes people living with the sickle cell trait, but incidence is highest in the Black community. Chicago’s Near West Side, where IMD is located, draws from African, Asian, Latin American and Mediterranean communities with the genetic sickle cell trait. Infants get sickle cell tests at birth, but minority communities often have limited continuous access to quality maternity care and adult diagnostics.

“Sickle cell disease is an invisible and enduring health disparity in the U.S.,” said Kate Schellinger, IMD interim executive director. “The Illinois Medical District is fortunate to include not only prominent research and treatment centers for sickle cell disease, but also an American Red Cross blood donation center. People who donate blood can alleviate the suffering of sickle cell patients and contribute to their long-term health.”

Blood transfusions are important in the care that UI HealthRush and other medical centers give sickle cell patients. Individuals with sickle cell disease can require thousands of blood transfusions throughout their lifetime to treat complications of the disease. Frequent transfusions make finding compatible blood products more challenging because patients develop an immune response to transfused blood.

In these cases, minority donors are life savers. Their blood can contain distinct blood protein structures or antigens that are the most compatible for patients with sickle cell disease. Blood banks may lack diverse blood supplies.  The IMD and Red Cross encourage healthy community members of all minority groups to donate blood.

“Locally, the Red Cross is working with Black community organizations to host blood drives in convenient locations like the Illinois Medical District that help bring donation opportunities closer to home,” said Celena Roldán, CEO of the American Red Cross Illinois Region. “We simply could not carry out our work to ensure closely matched blood products are available for patients with sickle cell disease without the support and partnership from the Black community.”

The need for blood is not limited to patients with sickle cell disease. Every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion, including women with childbirth complications, people fighting cancer and trauma patients in emergency rooms.

How to Help the IMD-Red Cross Blood Drive

Shortages during the pandemic make blood donation more critical right now. A diverse supply of blood is vital to treat conditions from cancer to complications from childbirth, surgeries, and trauma. “As COVID-19 cases increase, blood donations assure that hospitals and patients have continued access to vital blood products,” Schellinger said.

Hospitals most often fall short of type O blood in emergencies. Fifty-one percent of Black individuals are type O. For this reason, Black donors play a critical role in meeting the constant need for blood.

“As an organization dedicated to alleviating suffering, the Red Cross is committed to the health and well-being of all communities,” Roldán said. “Maintaining a diverse blood supply is critical to improving health outcomes for all patients.”

The IMD and Red Cross want to make blood donation easily accessible. The American Red Cross blood donation site in the IMD is open daily at the Rauner Center, 2200 W. Harrison St. To find American Red Cross blood drives and schedule a blood donation, visit, download the Blood Donor App or call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

About the Illinois Medical District

The Illinois Medical District is a community of health, technology and life science organizations in the heart of Chicago, two miles west of the Loop on 560 acres. Every day, more than 80,000 people visit the IMD, including more than 29,000 employees. With $220 million in annual research funding, the IMD generates $3.4 billion in economic activity each year. The IMD offers partners a unique ecosystem of knowledge, collaboration and resources, plus something more: the opportunity to impact the world’s next great healthcare innovation district. Together, IMD partners accelerate discovery and commercialization that is reshaping the practice of all life sciences, generating prosperity for everyone.

About the American Red Cross

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, visit or visit us on Twitter @RedCrossIL.

Media Contact:

Kyle Foehner
Purpose Brand

SOURCE Illinois Medical District

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