Savannah State, Red Cross host blood drive in honor of 13-year-old sickle cell patient


SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Savannah State University and the American Red Cross teamed up to host a campus blood drive on Thursday in honor of a 13-year-old boy battling sickle cell disease.

Jay Gandia, who lives in Hinesville, was diagnosed with the blood disorder at 6 months old and has been hospitalized several times since his diagnosis. 

“This is the reason that we’re all here today,” Maria Center, executive director for the Red Cross of Georgia’s southeast chapter, told WSAV NOW.

Sickle cell disease impacts one in 365 Americans, according to the Red Cross. It’s the most common genetic disease in the United States, and of the 100,000 people across the country who have it, 10,000 reside in Georgia.

“It’s blood that comes from someone from the same race or ethnicity is a much better match for Jay, so it helps prevent complications,” Center said. “That’s why we’re here with Savannah State and why we’re donating on behalf of Jay.”

Organizers say the event was fully booked, with over 40 people signing up in advance to give blood. 

Joining students and staff in participating were some of the historically Black university’s leaders, including vice president of marketing and communications Annette Ogletree-McDougal and interim president Kimberly Ballard-Washington.

“We learned about sickle cell anemia and the needs that a lot of people in our community, the Black population, have for blood,” Ballard-Washington said.

“We did a town hall meeting with American Red Cross a couple of weeks ago, and in that, it became very evident that people of color are more prone to sickle cell,” she said. “They need to have a complete blood transfusion once a month.”

Oftentimes, they require blood from special donors. “We’re in that special population, and we want to help,” she said.

Blood donations made at the event will go toward assisting people like Gandia, who has to take eight pills daily on top of having regular shots, blood transfusions and doctor’s visits.

Ballard-Washington says she wants anyone interested in donating blood in the future to know that it’s a virtually painless process.

“It didn’t hurt when she was sticking the needle in, it’s a prick, and then you watch the blood go,” she said. “I know that I’m saving lives, and it’s definitely worth the effort, it’s worth that little prick.”

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