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Carlton

Charlotte, North Carolina

Carlton was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at birth. Growing up, he was lucky. Although he spent time in and out of the hospital dealing with pain crises and health issues and receiving blood transfusions — more than five in total — he never had stories to tell like the other kids who had sickle cell.

“I’m really thankful because I know there are a lot of kids who miss a lot of school or are in the hospital most of the time,” he said.

Carlton

But then he spent his first week of college at Fayetteville State University in the hospital. Then two weeks of his sophomore year. That was the big one. Carlton had to have a blood transfer, where doctors at Atrium Health in Charlotte took out 80 percent of his blood — about 6 pints ­— and replaced it with someone else’s.

Carlton said it was a surreal experience. It took a while to remove his “bad” blood and put in the new. It gave him a lot of time to reflect.

“I was just thinking about all the people who donated, who came here or went out to blood drives to donate,” he said. “I’m really thankful because their blood, it does go to a really good cause. After I came out of the hospital, I really did feel different with that new blood, and it really did make a difference.”

Thanks to local blood donors, Carlton was able to recover from his pain crisis and get back to school, where he’s studying computer science. But the kindness of the strangers who donated the blood he received stays with him.

“They’re doing a really good thing for people like me, who they don’t even know,” he said. “They actually do help real people, not just someone who’s going to go out and waste the blood they’ve been given. I use my blood for good.”

Carlton spends his summers working for Freedom School Partners Inc., where he teaches underprivileged third- through fifth-graders a variety of subjects to help them avoid summer learning loss. He sees it as a great way to give back to his community and help those in need, much like the volunteer blood donors who have helped him over the years.

“The people they have donated the blood to are real people,” he said. “I’m actually here working and living my life because you donated for me. I wish I could personally say thank you to the people whose blood it was. But whoever’s blood it was, I’m thankful for. I really am.”

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