A local collaborative effort has resulted in accolades by a national organization. The Skanner News Group has won an Award of Merit in the newspaper category from the American Association of Blood Banks for its partnership with American Red Cross Pacific Northwest Regional Blood Services in encouraging blood and bone marrow donations in the African American community.
The awards of merit are presented annually by the AABB to media and/or public-spirited groups and individuals who have made significant contributions to transfusion medicine and/or cellular therapies. They will be presented in October in Miami Beach, Fla.
"We are honored to have been selected for this award," said The Skanner Executive Editor Bobbie Dore Foster. "This is what our mission is about — challenging people to shape a better future now."
There's never enough blood to go around. Even in the best of times, hospitals find themselves with a blood supply that barely outpaces patient demand. In times of crisis, shortages are always a looming problem.
And in the African American community, the blood supply is even more thinly stretched. While blood compatibility isn't usually based on race, some rare blood types — like U-negative and Duffy-negative — are unique to African Americans. And in terms of bone marrow donation, having African American donors available dramatically increases the odds of finding a match.
That's why The Skanner and the Red Cross have joined forces to sponsor blood drives in the Portland area, and to encourage African Americans to donate. For two years running, The Skanner has been the lead media sponsor for several Red Cross blood campaigns, including the annual Juneteenth drive, the Charles Drew Drive and the Martin Luther King Jr. Blood and Bone Marrow drive.
"The Skanner has been instrumental in helping us educate African Americans … why it's important to donate blood," said Sandi Lesh of the Red Cross Pacific Northwest Regional Blood Services. "They've been running stories about that featuring donors in need, and getting the word out about our blood and marrow drives. The partnership has increased, and we're really pleased with the results."
Lesh and Clare Matthias, also of the Red Cross, nominated the newspaper.
Lesh mentioned this year's The Skanner Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast as a particularly poignant example of the partnership's effectiveness. A place of honor was reserved at the breakfast for Jarraye Hicks, a local youth in dire need of a bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, Hicks' health prevented him from attending, and his empty chair was a piercing reminder of the desperate need for African American marrow donors. Hicks passed away not long after the January breakfast; no matching donor had been found.
Raising awareness about the need for donors and motivating people to actually donate are the two biggest obstacles in building a larger blood supply, Lesh said. About 60 percent of the public are physically able to donate blood, but only about 20 percent do so. The disparity is greater among minority communities, she added. Having the assistance of a paper like The Skanner, she said, which is widely read among African Americans in Portland, helps to lend credence to the Red Cross' efforts.
"I think that having a partner like The Skanner, which is really involved in the community — not just reporting the news, but educating and striving to create a better quality of life — helps us at the Red Cross by lending trust to what we're trying to say," Lesh said.
And there's another, much less well-known benefit to increased numbers of African Americans donating blood, Lesh said. As a group, African Americans have more members with Type O blood. Type O is known as the "universal donor" — anyone can receive Type O blood in a transfusion, regardless of their blood type, making it the most desirable type to have in a region's blood supply. So by donating blood, African Americans can do a great service not just to themselves, but to the community as a whole.
But the more pressing need, by far, is for African American bone marrow donors. Finding a bone marrow match is difficult regardless of a patient's race, but for African Americans, it's even harder — race can be a determinant for certain factors that qualify or disqualify a match.
"Caucasians don't have the antigens for certain types of illnesses, like sickle cell disease," Lesh said. "If you look in the National Bone Marrow Registry, there's a lot more Caucasian donors than minorities. It's really important to get more African Americans in the registry."
If you're interested in donating blood or signing up for the National Bone Marrow Registry, you don't have to wait for a drive to come around. Schedule a donation anytime at the Red Cross Portland Donor Center, 3131 N. Vancouver Ave., by calling 503-284-4040.
Blood donors must be at least 16 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and not have given blood within the previous 56 days. Potential bone marrow donors must be between 18 and 60 years of age and answer a short health questionnaire.