Nicole CreechPHA Board of Trustees member Nicole Creech is helping the American Red Cross and Sickle Cell Association of Kentuckiana raise awareness this month for a disease she’s lived with since birth.

Nicole is part of a campaign to encourage African American and Hispanic people to donate blood during Sickle Cell Awareness Month. The organizations are hosting blood drives Sept. 18 in Lexington and Bowling Green, Kentucky, to help people like Nicole with sickle cell disease.

The rare disease is caused by a shortage of healthy red blood cells, characterized by red blood cells shaped like sickles or crescents. The malformed cells can break or get stuck in blood vessels, causing issues in the lungs and other organs.

Sickle cell disease led to Nicole’s pulmonary hypertension (PH) diagnosis in 2008 at 36 years old. Nicole is one of 100,000 people in the U.S. with sickle cell disease and among the 30 percent of sickle cell patients who also may have PH. She depends on a blood transfusion every three to four months and has received over 60 transfusions in her lifetime.

“Blood saves my life,” Nicole says in a news release. “I’ve become blood-transfusion dependent in the last decade, which means my body produces fewer red blood cells and destroys red blood cells faster than usual, causing a lot of fatigue, shortness of breath, fast irregular heartbeat and pain.”

Blood given to sickle cell patients like Nicole must be matched closely, and blood from a donor with the same blood type and ethnic background is the best match. Due to COVID-19, fewer people are donating blood.

“COVID-19 has posed huge risks for us battling sickle cell,” Nicole says. “It’s affected the way we think about our exposure when having to go to the hospital to get care during a sickle cell crisis or when keeping clinical appointments to have our labs drawn, and its caused reluctance for blood donors, which can cause shortages for those of us who need blood [transfusions] as maintenance just to live.”

When Nicole receives a blood transfusion, she says she immediately feels the benefits. Blood donors allow Nicole to continue to live her best life, and she says she will never take them for granted.

In addition to raising sickle cell disease and PH awareness, Nicole serves as secretary on PHA’s Board of Trustees and manages the social media page for the PHA support group in Lexington, where she lives with her dog Jager. Nicole is a member of PHA’s Legacy of Hope Society.

If you’re interested in donating blood, the Red Cross has an urgent need for African American donors. Learn how to donate.