Community using Sickle Cell Awareness Month to fight disease

NORFOLK, Va. - It's a disorder affecting thousands here in Hampton Roads, even cutting their life expectancy in half.

Sickle cell disease.

On the eve of an annual red umbrella walk, News 3 is taking action to raise awareness.

Each morning Tysheba Randall lays out eight pill bottles deciding which ones she’ll take that day.

She then downs them with a bottle of soda.

“I am very adamant about taking my meds on daily basis,” Randall explained. “I had a stroke, which normally is supposed to happen when you’re a child and it happened to be when I was 26.”

As a child, the now 28-year-old was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease, a genetic blood disorder.

This disease causes red blood cells to become hard and sickle shaped, blocking blood flow - causing pain and infections.

“I had the doctors give up on me twice. I was basically left in the hospital to do whatever my body was supposed to do,” Randall explained.

Health experts estimate sickle cell affects nearly 800 people in Hampton Roads.

The disease is found in most racial groups,  but officials say eight to ten percent of African Americans are born with the sickle cell trait.

Growing up Randall says she was in and out of Children’s Hospital of the Kings’ Daughters. Luckily, newborn screenings began in the late 1980s. Official say this has helped extend the life expectancy for many sickle cell patients but finding a cure is still an uphill battle.

That’s where organizations like the Sickle Cell Association of Hampton Roads help.

“We have been in the forefront of educating the community about it, advocating with our legislators about it, legislation to continue treatment,” Judy Anderson, the Executive Director of the association, said.

Tomorrow, the group is hosting their annual red umbrella walk to raise money to fight the disease and find a cure.

Experts say the average life expectancy for a sickle cell patient is mid-40s.

“Every organ system in the body is affected. Sickle cell does not cause death but the complications from the disease,” Anderson explained.

Randall says the organization became the silver lining in her battle.

She’s now a published writer.

“I’m not just sitting here dwelling on my disease,” Randall said.