Friday, January 2, 2009

Aging and Sickle Cell Disease

When I was 10 years old a well meaning doctor bent down to my 3 foot height and told me very gently, “You know, you’re only going to live to be 30 years old.” I blinked and thought, “That’s a long time from now.”

Fast forward thirty-eight years and I’m 48 years old and still alive.

That doctor didn’t realize that he had given a 10 year-old child a death sentence. He could not have imagined that his prognosis would sit in the back of my mind as I turned 20, then 30 and then 40 years old. As I aged, I laughed at that doctor’s prediction, but secretly I prayed for God to give me more time.

As time passes, and I age, I discovered that Sickle Cell Disease would take its place as the most important thing in my life. The effects on my body have been gradual, yet undeniable. Regardless of how well I “take care of myself”, I have to pay attention to everything I do as it relates to my health.

Recently, I heard a young man with Sickle Cell Disease say “Sickle Cell gets better as you learn how to live with it.” Sorry baby, that ain’t true. Sickle Cell Disease doesn’t “get better.” The lack of oxygen, low red blood count and trapped sickling cells eventually takes its toll on your joints, internal organs and your life. This is not bad news, it’s the truth.

There is good news, however. There are things we can do to help ourselves live and age well. I call them “the five mandatory things.” They are; drink lots of water (to keep your blood fluid), take vitamins (to get extra nutrients), rest, rest, rest (to rejuvenate your aging body), eat healthy foods (anything that assist in blood development {I know I hate liver too}), and exercise (mild movement to keep the aging body mobile and to increase oxygen). These five things have helped me live past my doctor’s dooms day prognosis.

Does Sickle Cell Disease get better? No. Do people living with Sickle Cell Disease get smarter? Yes.

The smarter you are the longer and healthier you’ll live. Will you still have episodes of pain? Yes. But, the better you get at managing your disease (doing those five things) the better you will manage the “triggers” of Sickle Cell “crisis”. The more clearly you are about accepting your condition, AND your responsibility to live your best life in spite of it, the better life will be. There are some uncontrollable issues like stroke, and spleen infarctions that can’t be managed, but so what.

We can hope for a “complete” cure, and in the meantime, also live full happy lives. I’ve even heard of people with Sickle Cell Disease living to be 70 & 80 years old. (I haven’t met any of them yet, but I hope to join their club of survivors.)

Do I know a thing or two about living this life with Sickle Cell Disease? Yes, I do. All 48 years of it (and past that darn number 30!)


  1. That's funny...I read in my 10th grade Biology book that we would not live past 40 and that was in 1982! I was quite excited when I passed that age as well!! I am now 43 and doing well. I have Sickle beta Thalessemia minor but I get sick just like SCD patients.

  2. Glad to hear that you're doing well. No matter what "they tell us" we have to live on.

    Welcome to living past 40!