September: Sickle Cell Awareness Month

September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month!

In honor of this occasion, I decided to post one of my favorite interviews with Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins. I especial enjoyed this interview because it is clear that she is knowledgeable about the disease. As a Sickle Cell survivor, I can appreciate the fact that she is taking ownership of her own body; not allowing sickle cell to run her life.

What is Sickle Cell?

That is a question people who suffer from the disease are asked quite frequently. Most of the time it is complicated to define, even for the ones who suffer from Sickle Cell. This article will explain in depth about Sickle Cell and try to eliminate all of the stereotypes that have been around for so long. All you biology majors will appreciate this. Take notes, because this short summary of Sickle Cell Anemia may come in handy for class.

Sickle Cell Anemia has been around for thousands of years. But it was first studied and named in 1904. Sickle Cell Anemia started in Africa. And when people who had the Sickle Cell Gene left Africa, they brought hemoglobin S with them. Now it is in all parts of the world. Scientists think that hemoglobin S may protect people from a disease called malaria. Malaria (which can be carried though misquotes) is a serious disease that is common in very warm places like Africa. And even though hemoglobin S causes a painful disease, it also helps protect people from a different disease.

Sickle Cell is a hereditary blood that affects the hemoglobin, which is a protein in your red blood cells that gives your blood its red color. Hemoglobin’s job is to carry oxygen from their lungs to the cells in the rest of their body. Red blood cells with normal hemoglobin are soft, flexible, and doughnuts shaped. This is so they can easily squeeze through the blood vessels to get the oxygen to where it needs to go. After hemoglobin drops off the oxygen, the red blood cells are still shaped like doughnuts and are ready to pick up more oxygen.

People who have Sickle Cell Anemia have different hemoglobin. It is called hemoglobin S. After hemoglobin S drops off oxygen, it causes the red blood cell to change shape. The cell becomes crescent-shaped, kind of like the moon. These cells are rough and hard. They can’t move through blood vessels very easily. Sometimes they get stuck, and then they can’t deliver oxygen. If oxygen can’t get to the blood cells one might feel pain in your arms, legs, back, chest, or stomach. This is called Sickle Cell crisis, and it can happen any time. A Sickle Cell crisis is often unexpected. There are also other symptoms of Sickle Cell Anemia.

Some of the symptoms of Sickle Cell Anemia are:

Pain in the arms, legs, stomach, and back

• Swollen hands and feet

• Sores on your legs that heal very slowly

• Children can grow much slower than other’s

• Immune System does not protect the body as well as it should.

• Jaundice or yellow eyes

There are a number of Sickle Cell patients who experience curl side effects such as:

• Blindness

• Stroke

• Failure of organs

• Heart murmurs

• Complications during birth or while giving birth

These complications can lead to death.

Due to all of the complications and symptoms, Sickle Cell patients will often be hospitalized. This will leave a sickle cell patient in depression. They start to realize that they are different from other people. People with Sickle Cell have a hard time cathching up with school and work. They cannot do too much strenuous exercise. The hardest part of all is facing people who are not aware of the disease. They can be close to someone with the disease. Ignorant questions are asked and there are times when people go too far. Why are your eye’s so yellow? Why you always in the hospital. Can I catch it?

Sickle Cell is not contagious. An individual who has the Sickle Cell Anima inherited a sickle-cell gene from each parent. If only one of your parents has the gene, then you won’t get Sickle Cell Anemia. But you will have sickle cell trait. This won’t make you sick. But you will be a carrier. This means that even though a person doesn’t have sickle cell anemia, they can still pass the gene on to their children. According to the Sickle Cell Association of America, about 2.5 million people in the United States carry the trait. There is a small percentage of people with Sickle Cell Trait that do experience the same symptoms as one with Sickle Cell Anemia.

Most people who have sickle cell anemia are African or African American. Which is why it is “the black disease.” However a small percentage of people who are Greek, Spanish, Indian, Italian, or from the Caribbean Islands have it too. More than 60,000 people in the United States have Sickle Cell Anemia.

Tionne T-Boz Watkins of TLC had to deal with the hassle and stress of the music industry. She also has to deal with the pain and suffering of Sickle Cell Anemia. There were several time’s when TLC had to cancel their tours due to her illness. Good news, she gave birth to a healthy girl and is doing well. She has encouraged people like herself (who have Sickle Cell) to stay encouraged. Today T-Boz is the celebrity spokesperson for the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America. T-Boz has a true success story.

There is not a cure as of yet. However, researchers have found bone marrow transplants to be helpful. However, its symptoms can be taken care of, by drinking lots of fluids and taking a regular regimen of medication. Pain medicine can be taken at home when there is a pain crisis. Sometimes, a crisis can be so overwhelming that a Sickle Cell patient may have to go to the hospital. There the patient may be given extra oxygen, blood transfusions, or IV fluids. There are even times where high dosage of medication can be given. For example, while in the hospital a patient can take codeine, percocette and morphine all in the same hospital visit. If a sickle cell patient drinks lots of fluids, rest after exercising, avoid alcohol and cigarettes and even tries to avoid flying in airplanes, they will lead a happy, healthy, and normal life.

“I have learned to smile when I wasn’t happy, to sing when I didn’t feel like it, and to do things to please my fans. My attitude was… O.K, you’re just going to have to face what you’ve got. Now, Suck it up and try to make the best of it. … there was a larger stage…. that would enable me to take my message to people who need it the most. People like me. People with have sickle cell disease.” -Tionne T-Boz Watkins

Today, I had the opportunity to join the Greater Boston Sickle Cell Disease Association’s annual “Stomp out Sickle Cell” walk. I was joined by my husband, son and my amazing aunt.
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For any more information visit The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America website:

Original article written by me!

Uchendu, N.A. “Sickle Cell: The Black Disease.” The Mass Media. UMass Boston, 07 Nov. 2001.

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