Celebrated artivist Nikkolas Smith illustrates reality of patients living with sickle cell disease

Celebrated artivist Nikkolas Smith illustrates reality of patients living with sickle cell disease

Red Cross harnesses power of artistic activism — known as artivism — to show how blood donors help in the fight against sickle cell 

WASHINGTON, June 19, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Celebrated artist Nikkolas Smith revealed exclusive artwork today illustrating the important role blood donations play for people living with sickle cell disease, the most common — yet often invisible to the public eye — genetic blood disorder in the U.S., which predominantly affects those in the Black community.

The digital portrait commissioned by the American Red Cross, entitled “Transfusion,” is a call to raise broader awareness about sickle cell disease and the important role donors who are Black play in providing a compatible blood match. One in three African Americans are a match for people with sickle cell disease.

Smith sat down with four sickle cell warriors of various ages — Tiereny Bell, Dr. Rubin Beaufort, Dreylan Holmes and Erica Hunter — to capture and represent their lived experiences in “Transfusion.” From 12-year-old Dreylan Holmes’ misunderstood experience at school leaving him isolated from friends to Tiereny Bell’s excruciating pain limiting her work schedule as an epidemiologist, warriors’ experiences are vast and common, yet widely still underrepresented in everyday conversation.

“People will sometimes say to me, you don’t look sick,” said Bell. “And I respond, well, what does sick look like?”

WHY SICKLE CELL DISEASE? An estimated 100,000 people across the U.S. — the majority of whom are of African descent — have sickle cell disease and may require regular blood transfusions to help manage their disease. Blood transfusions are essential in managing the very real pain and long-term health of those with sickle cell disease, which distorts soft and round red blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped, both of which are depicted in Smith’s artwork. As a result, blood has difficulty flowing smoothly and carrying oxygen to the rest of the body, which may lead to severe pain, tissue and organ damage, anemia, and even strokes.

“What stood out to me the most when speaking with these incredibly brave sickle cell warriors is how much constant pain they endure due to the malfunctioning cells in their body, but also the level of determination they have to maintain in order to push through until their next blood transfusion,” Smith said.

HOW BLOOD DONORS HELP Unfortunately, frequent transfusions can make finding compatible blood types more difficult when patients develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to the blood of the recipient.

“Sickle cell disease can be inherited by anyone of any race and ethnicity, but in the U.S., the great majority of individuals who have the disease are of African descent,” said Dr. Yvette Miller, executive medical director of the Red Cross. “Nikkolas’ art reinforces that donating blood helps sickle cell warriors stay in the fight, while inspiring each of us to roll up a sleeve so they don’t have to fight alone.”

Dr. Rubin Beaufort, a retired mechanical engineer, has received more than 240 blood transfusions to date and still endures high levels of pain regularly. “We’re facing this every single day, not just once in a while,” he shared, emphasizing the ongoing need for blood. Forty-one-year-old microbiologist Erica Hunter, who was forced to retire from her job early due to complications of the disease, has received more than 50 blood transfusions to date.

“I was so moved to learn how [sickle cell warriors’] health greatly improves after every generous blood donation and transfusion,” Smith reflected. “My hope is that we can exponentially increase the number of lifesaving blood donations and transfusions this year.”

Smith’s art is part of the Red Cross Sickle Cell Initiative, which seeks to address health disparities associated with sickle cell disease by increasing much-needed blood donations from individuals who are Black through community partnerships and helping to ensure closely matched blood products are available for patients.

Learn more about the artwork.

Donating blood is simple, and summer months can be a challenging time to maintain a sufficient blood supply. Individuals of all blood types are urged to make an appointment now by using the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visiting RedCrossBlood.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides comfort to victims of disasters; supplies about 40% of the nation’s blood; teaches skills that save lives; distributes international humanitarian aid; and supports veterans, military members and their families. The Red Cross is a nonprofit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to deliver its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org or CruzRojaAmericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCross.

About Nikkolas Smith: 
Nikkolas Smith, a native of Houston, Texas, is a Master of Architecture recipient from Hampton University. After designing theme parks at Walt Disney Imagineering for 11 years, he is now an ARTivist, Concept artist, Children’s Books Author, Film Illustrator(Space Jam 2, Black Panther 2, Judas and the Black Messiah, Black Panther Wakanda Forever) and Movie poster designer (Black Panther, Soul, Beale Street, Southside With You, Dear White People, Stranger Fruit). He is the author/illustrator of the picture books The Golden Girls of Rio (nominated for an NAACP Image Award), My Hair Is Poofy And That’s Okay and World Cup Women . He is also the illustrator of #1 NYT Bestseller The 1619 Project: Born on the Water written by Pulitzer Price-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renée Watson, I Am Ruby Bridges written by Activist Ruby Bridges, Black Panther Wakanda Forever: The Courage To Dream, written by NYT Bestseller author Frederick Joseph and That Flag written by Tameka Fryer Brown. His highly anticipated written and illustrated picture book The Artivist is coming out on September 5, published by Kokila Books/Penguin. He is a proud 2016 White House Innovators of Color fellow. His most famous and recognized works focus on Artivism. As an illustrator of color, Nikkolas creates captivating art that can spark important conversations around social justice in today’s world and inspire meaningful change. Many of his viral and globally published sketches are included in his latest book Sunday Sketch: The Art of Nikkolas, a visual journey on life and a collection of more than 100 sketches he has done in the last five years.

SOURCE American Red Cross

Originally published at https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/celebrated-artivist-nikkolas-smith-illustrates-reality-of-patients-living-with-sickle-cell-disease-301853761.html
Images courtesy of https://pixabay.com

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