Chicago area's 'Sickle Cell Diva' shares challenges of living with the inherited blood disorder

ByCheryl Burton and Poinesha Barnes via WLS logo
Monday, September 5, 2022
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Sickle cell anemia patient Sherrell Johnson has lived with the disease since she was 6 months old, but even her worst crises don't keep her down.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Sherrell Johnson, 43, is a force to be reckoned with. She calls herself the "Sickle Cell Diva."

"I don't let sickle cell run me," Johnson said. "I run sickle cell."

She's lived with sickle cell anemia since she was 6 months old, but even her worst crises don't keep her down.

"I was out of work for 30 days," Johnson said. "I spend 15 in the hospital. I had to have two rounds of antibiotics. Three blood transfusions. And I got out, came home got some rest, went back to work, and then I went to Cancun for my birthday."

The inherited disease causes red blood cells to make a curved shape, or sickle. Those cells can cause severe pain, potential organ damage and even death.

"So, the way I describe a pain crisis, imagine a man inside of your arm. A little man," Johnson explained. "And he has a hammer and he's just hammering at your bones. At your joints. Over and over and over, constantly and he does not stop. At all."

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Many times, only blood transfusions can ease the pain. That's why the American Red Cross created its relatively new sickle cell initiative to target communities that need the most support.

"There are 100,000 people suffering from sickle cell disease," said Carmen Perry, with the American Red Cross. "African American are disproportionately affected by the disease."

Doctors say it can be easier to find a blood-type match between Black patients, so they're urging more African Americans to donate blood.

"We are helping save lives," Perry said. "You are not only impacting lives but your community as an African American donor."

Johnson added, "It's imperative for people to donate blood, for people with sickle cell so that when we are in the hospital and desperately need it with don't have to wait those two to three days."

According to the Red Cross, there is still a blood shortage in the United States, so donating blood is more important than ever.

And the essential gift gives people like Sherrell Johnson a better chance at a healthy life.

You can also visit RedCrossBlood.org to find a mobile drive near you.