Sickle cell anaemia

Sickle cell anaemia

is when someone has inherited the
sickle haemoglobin from both parents.

I was diagnosed with sickle cell
at two years old.

It was a big shock
for my parents especially,

but growing up with it,
it was very tough.

Sickle cell anaemia is commoner
among people of African origin.

It's a genetic condition
which mainly affects Afro-Caribbeans

but it does affect other Europeans
like Cypriots, Italians etcetera.

Normal red cells that carry
the haemoglobin round the body

are round, flexible and can
pass through all the blood vessels,

even the tiniest of the blood vessels.

When somebody has sickle haemoglobin,

it doesn't absorb as much oxygen,

so when there's less oxygen
in the red blood cells it changes shape,

so it becomes a sickle shape or
a banana shape, it becomes quite sticky,

and they will stick together
and jam up the blood vessels.

The parts of the body not getting
any blood supply become quite painful

and that's what
a painful sickle cell crisis is.

Your legs hurt, your arms hurt,
you can't walk or do anything.

A sickle cell crisis can last
as many as a few days or longer,

so it just depends
on where the crisis is

and what part of the body is affected.

It's very unpredictable.

It could be in your knees
and you might take some painkillers

and then it could move to your chest.

If it's the chest it's dangerous.

It affects the lungs,
which affect the heart.

Usually it's the joints and the bones,
where the very tiny blood vessels go.

But any part of the body
can be affected.

It makes you tired as well,

and if you're tired,
physical things are hard to do.

For somebody with sickle cell,

they are breaking down their red cells
very, very quickly

so the spleen is overworked
and doesn't fight infection very well.

That's why people
with sickle cell disorders

have low resistance to infection.

There are some common triggers
for a sickle cell crisis.

Dehydration, not having enough fluids,

infection is one of them,

stress and over-exertion.

If it's sunny one day
and then the next morning it's raining,

that's when you're more susceptible
to have a crisis.

Management of sickle cell is much better
now because people are more aware.

(Junior) I manage my sickle cell
with mainly antibiotics

like folic acid, penicillin
to prevent infections,

and then it's just painkillers, really.

Drink lots of fluid
to keep well hydrated.

Eat well, a well-balanced diet that
should include fruits and vegetables.

When your body says, "I'm tired,"
then rest.

So you have a lot of time off school

and because it affects a minority,
mainly Afro-Caribbeans,

a lot of the schools don't research it,
they don't know about it.

Sickle cell anaemia does affect
people's lives quite dramatically,

especially if they have lots of crises.

People look at you in a different way.

People don't sometimes see
there's a person trying to do their best

under difficult circumstances.

Sometimes they look at you and think,
"This person's just complaining."

You can imagine a child in school
who has crises.

Even if he's not in hospital but
can't get to school, he's missing out.

(Junior) It affects your career,
it affects your ambition,

it affects your money,
it affects your wallet.

It affects everything, basically.

With sickle cell disease there is
some support out there in the community,

from your local health centre.

They have support
from the Sickle Cell Society,

from the local sickle cell centres,

from others, peer groups.

It's definitely important
to know other people with sickle cell

because from doing that
you feel like you're not alone.

People with sickle cell disorders who
have grown up to be doctors and lawyers

may not have gotten there
as soon as they wanted

but they got there eventually.

It is a challenge
to actually live with the condition

but it's a challenge
that all of us really relish

and it doesn't stop you
from enjoying your life,

it doesn't stop you from
getting a degree, I've got a degree.

Anything you want to achieve
you basically can achieve.