Spiderman, Giannis and you: join the heroes in a 17-year-old Milwaukee boy’s life

By Justin Kern, American Red Cross

Spiderman is 17-year-old Demarus Torrence’s favorite superhero. Like so many Milwaukee sports fans, he’s also crazy about Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

His mother, Passion Terrell’s, favorite larger-than-life hero? Anyone who donates blood.

Demarus Torrence poses with a Star Wars storm trooper, part of a dream-come-true trip to ComiCon a few years ago with the Make A Wish Foundation. Demarus has sickle cell disease and his family is encouraging people to donate blood to help him and others battling the painful illness.

That’s because Demarus suffers from the pains and plight of sickle cell disease. The ravages of the disease cause “pain crises” that at times require monthly blood transfusions and regular hospital stays. The fan of comics and sci-fi flicks showed his own bravery in merely battling through this affliction.

“Just imagine someone hitting your back with a hammer, constantly, and it just won’t stop. [Demarus] describes it and you can picture it, but you really can’t,” his mother said.

About 100,000 people in the U.S., most of whom are of African or Latino descent, are living with sickle cell disease. Regular blood transfusions are often a critical treatment for sickle cell patients. In fact, a single sickle cell patient can require multiple blood transfusions per year throughout their lifetime to treat complications from sickle cell disease. 

Demarus is the only person in his immediate family with the disease, though later testing revealed other family members who carry the sickle cell trait that can cause the disease. As a mother, Terrell has made it her mission to care for her beloved son and to inspire others to give blood – especially African Americans and people who have never donated. A sickle cell patient in need is more likely to find a compatible blood match from a donor of the same race or a similar ethnicity.

“I think I’ve gotten better over the years. I was a nervous wreck when he was smaller; I was probably overprotective,” she said, later adding, “You kind of feel hopeless.”

On Sept. 3, from noon until 5 p.m., the American Red Cross is teaming up with Passion and Demarus for a blood drive at his high school, MacDowell Montessori School, 6415 W. Mt. Vernon Ave., Milwaukee, 53213. All blood donors are welcome. To make an appointment at this drive, use the ZIP code 53213 in the search at RedCrossBlood.org or enter the promo code SCstrong.

Passion Terrell smiles with her son, Demarus. She said she’s felt “hopeless” at times watching her son in pain from sickle cell disease, which is why she’s teaming up with the American Red Cross to inspire blood donors at an upcoming drive.

The Red Cross and Passion’s new sickle cell awareness organization, The Strongest Warriors: Sickle Cell Strong, are encouraging African American blood donors to participate in this life-saving collection. About 30 donors are anticipated for this drive though numerous other drives are happening across Wisconsin during September, which is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month.

Terrell knows firsthand the “superpower” that blood donors share when making donations that help people like Demarus.

“It’s amazing, once he gets that blood in him, it’s like a different person. His breathing improves, his blood levels improve … it’s like his body wakes up,” Terrell said.

At a time when health information has never been more important, the Red Cross in April added sickle cell trait screening for self-identified African American blood donors. Tens of thousands of donors have taken advantage of this new feature over the past four months. This information is shared with donors as part of the update process in the weeks after having donated blood.

To make an appointment at a drive during Sickle Cell Awareness Month, visit RedCrossBlood.org, download the free Red Cross Blood Donor app from your app store or call (800) RED CROSS (733-2767).

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