Sickle cell disease is a rare, genetic blood disorder. For those afflicted, abnormal hemoglobin causes crescent-like or sickle-shaped red blood cells to form in their blood. These cells can become rigid, lodging themselves in the tiny capillaries of the bloodstream, preventing the normal flow of oxygen through the body. This can cause chronic anemia, acute pain, and progressive damage to tissues and organs.
In the United States, sickle cell disease affects primarily African-Americans. Approximately 80,000 people suffer from sickle cell disease, and another 2.5-3 million carry the trait. Contrary to some perceptions, no cure has been found. Most people will adapt to the disease, but it poses physical challenges.
Physical symptoms usually appear by the age of three. Patients suffer recurring attacks of severe pain, typically in the chest, limbs and joints. They are subject to:
- Dangerous respiratory infections
- Bone, liver and kidney disease
- Progressive anemia as well as damage to the retinas of the eyes.
Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins of the group TLC was diagnosed at the age of eight with sickle cell. As a music artist and dancer, she has to make a lot of adjustments to her life to make touring and performing a reality. Sickle cell anemia is the most serious and debilitating form of the disease, with patients in the USA having a life expectancy only into their mid-40s, but at age 46, Watkins is pushing the boundaries each and every day.
Watkins is giving fans an inside peek into how she deals with her disease during her worldwide tour. She will provide video updates as the tour progresses and we’ll continue to share them through this blog. She plans to discuss how she keeps healthy, eats well and prepares for each show.
“Most physicians will tell a sickle cell patient the most critical thing they can do is get regular medical checkups, eat and rest properly, and avoid cold and overexertion. Headlining a world music tour goes against pretty much all of that,” Watkins said. “I want everyone to know that you can be a survivor, even when it looks like you’re against all odds.”
Learn more about sickle cell disease:
- Sickle cell in children
- Sickle cell disease and pregnancy
- Sickle cell quiz
- Sickle Cell Disease Association of America
Providence is pleased to share the stories of great people who have overcome health conditions. As part of our population health program, we want to share insights and stories that help bring awareness to common health conditions. Not all the people featured in our stories are Providence patients.