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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield closes Black History Month with panel on Sickle Cell Disease

  • Team members donate blood to support impacted warriors

Buffalo, N.Y. (February 29, 2024) — Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield hosted a sickle cell disease panel at its Buffalo headquarters on February 27, in recognition of Black History Month. As part of the event, Highmark team members also participated in an on-site blood drive to support sickle cell warriors.

Sickle cell disease is one of the most common genetic blood disorders, primarily affecting the Black population. It causes red blood cells to become hard and crescent-shaped (like a sickle) instead of soft and round. As a result, it is difficult for blood to flow smoothly and carry enough oxygen to the rest of the body, which may result in severe pain, organ and tissue damage, or even strokes.

According to the New York Department of Health, one of every 365 Black infants are born with sickle cell disease, while one in 13 Black infants are born with the sickle cell trait.

“We wanted to educate our employees and raise awareness around what is commonly referred to as the invisible disease — not only because you often can’t tell when someone is impacted, but because it’s not talked about enough,” said Dr. Mark Perry, senior medical director for Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield and moderator of the event. “Knowledge is power, and it’s important we all understand what sickle cell disease is and know how we can help.”  

The panel featured insightful discussion with sickle cell warrior and author, Juanita McClain, community advocate Antonio Parker and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield employee and mom to a sickle cell warrior, Domonique Fields who all courageously shared their personal experiences with sickle cell disease.

Fields, a supervisor at Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, joined the company in 2015. At that time, she was also expecting her first-born son, Kyler, who was diagnosed with sickle cell disease upon birth. Kyler tragically lost his life after a six-year battle in 2021.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it also takes a village to support a sickle cell warrior,” said Fields as she pointed to family members and colleagues in the audience, before adding, “If it weren’t for my village, and co-workers that turned into family, I wouldn’t have made it through. And I wouldn’t be here today continuing my son’s legacy to help other impacted families.”

Parker continues to honor his late sister, Jasmine, who lost her battle with sickle cell disease in 2022, by helping those affected by the disease. Since 2022, he has raised over $13,000, including through joint fundraising events with Fields — who he formed a bond with over their shared experience of loss by sickle cell disease.

“Before my sister passed, she was looking forward to having a birthday party — her 29th birthday. She didn’t make it, but I still wanted to give her a party, so I turned it into a party with a purpose,” Parker said. “My goal is to help alleviate the impacts of sickle cell disease for the marginalized people that it affects.”

American Red Cross representative Wendy Evenden also participated in the panel and provided valuable insights into the critical role of blood donations in supporting individuals with sickle cell disease. It is estimated that over 100,000 people in the U.S. have sickle cell disease and may require frequent blood transfusions throughout their lifetime, and one in three African American blood donors are a match for a patient with sickle cell disease.

“Our goal is to diversify our blood bank so we can have the best blood match for sickle cell warriors, and we need all types of blood for that, so thank you,” said Evenden. “When you meet and hear from real people, and see the challenges they face, it makes it all real, and makes you want to step up to help.”

The American Red Cross received a Highmark Bright Blue Futures Award in 2023 to support its national initiative to reach more diverse blood donors to help patients with sickle cell disease and improve health outcomes.

Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield team members also participated in an on-site blood drive as part of their efforts to support those impacted by sickle cell disease, and made a $1,000 donation to Sickle Cell Warriors. Here are all the ways the community can support and make a positive difference in the fight against sickle cell disease:

  • Know your sickle cell trait status
  • Visit to donate blood today
  • Support Sickle Cell Warriors at SCWBuffalo.Org/General-8
  • Stay educated and informed of current sickle cell disease events

“It may be too late for our loved ones, but it’s not too late for others,” added Fields. “That’s why we’re sharing our stories, to make a difference for the future.” 

About Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York
Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York is a trade name of Highmark Western and Northeastern New York Inc., an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association. Since 1936, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York has helped millions of people lead healthier lives. Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield offers a full range of insured, self-insured, and government programs and services covering businesses, families, and individuals, as well as dental and vision plans and stop-loss coverage. As a community-based, not-for-profit health plan, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield contributes significantly to organizations that strengthen and enrich the health of the community.

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Amber Hartmann