Dr. Yvette Miller and the American Red Cross Set The Record Straight On Sickle Cell Myths In The Black Community

Dr. Yvette Miller and the American Red Cross Set The Record Straight On Sickle Cell Myths In The Black Community

Many people don’t know sickle cell disease is the largest rare inherited blood disease in the United States. Sadly, it affects African Americans at higher rates than people of other races. 

The American Red Cross is looking to raise awareness about the disease and clear up some common myths surrounding it, especially within the Black community. Dr. Yvette Miller, executive medical officer of the donor and client support center in Charlotte, North Carolina, is an advocate helping to understand the difficulties of those living with sickle cell disease and how Black blood donors can help.

“Even as a child, I always knew I wanted to be a doctor, and I readily understood what my calling was when I joined the American Red Cross,” Miller told BLACK ENTERPRISE. “Advocating for increasing blood donations in the Black community and focusing on the transfusion needs of patients with sickle cell disease—that’s my calling.”

As a medical resident, Miller grew fond of blood banking and learned how to prevent sickle cell disease complications by providing blood products.

The CDC defines sickle cell disease as a group of inherited red blood cell disorders where the red blood cells become hard and sticky and take a C-shaped form called a “sickle.” It is inherited by receiving two abnormal hemoglobin S genes or sickle hemoglobin from a patient’s parents. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, African Americans have a higher occurrence of this disease due to sickle cell being a demographically based sickness. Wherever malaria is common—like Africa—so are higher cases of SCD.

While SCD is found in people worldwide, close to all patients with sickle cell in the United States are Black. Sickle cell disease is found in one of every 365 African American births; many require regular blood transfusions to help manage it.

During her UT Southwestern Medical Center residency, Miller found compatible blood units for a set of twins who suffered from SCD that needed closely matched blood transfusions. Inspired by Dr. Charles R. Drew, the African American surgeon who developed blood storage techniques, she decided to bask in “Black excellence” and complete her medical rotations at Charles Drew University in Los Angeles to work on supporting diverse communities through transfusion medicine. “It resonated with me that this man worked to ensure there was Black excellence among physicians,” Miller said. “I respected him, and I felt that his spirit was always part of me, that I was going to be his legacy in the American Red Cross to carry on what he could not carry on. I always felt that.”

Many celebrities, like singer Fantasia, have partnered with the ARC to push the same “Black Excellence” narrative in the blood of the Black community.