Normal life with sickle-cell
At first glance, Neil Griffith seems like the average 22-year-old.
He likes music and computers and pursues his studies with some vigour, but many people do not know that this first year psychology and management student at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus was born with sickle-cell anaemia.
The condition was discovered when Neil, only a couple weeks old then, needed to have a surgical procedure. The youngest of his mother’s three children, he is the only one who has the full-blown condition while his brother and sister have the sickle-cell trait.
Neil recalled that the condition caused him severe pain while he was growing up. “When you are ill you are really ill. When I was young I would get sick a lot of the time. It affected me severely because I missed a lot of school. Since the teachers knew I had [the condition] from birth and since my mother teaches at the Roland Edwards School the teacher would send the work home and I would do it at home and send it back in,” Neil said.
In addition, he missed out on lots of time to play. But knowing that he has a condition that will affect him for the remainder of his life, he has learnt to cope with it. “Well I try not to let it define me; I just try to do what I want to do,” he said.
He attended the Roland Edwards Primary School and then the Coleridge & Parry School before he pursued the Associate degree in computer science at the Barbados Community College. However, he got into studying psychology after a volunteering with the Counselling Addiction Support Alternatives (CASA) for a brief stint, which he enjoyed.
Neil admits that to achieve his goals he needs to take care of himself. Currently he has no issues and has not been ill for quite a few years, but he has adopted some practices which he follows and will probably have to follow for the remainder of his life. He takes his vitamins and medication every day, consumes a lot of vegetables even though he does not like them, and tries to exercise every day. He visits the doctor every six months for his check-ups.
He has only been hospitalized once because of his condition, and his aunt Valma Griffith, with whom he lives at West Terrace, St James, said, “I find that very commendable because it is usually a case where children are always in an out the hospital for transfusions.”
Neil admits that since he had the condition from birth it feels quite normal.
“I do not feel any different from other people except for the fact that I cannot play any heavy contact sports because it is dangerous and the joints could be seriously injured because people with sickle-cell are more prone to injuries,” he said.
Sickle-cell anaemia is a disease that changes normal, round red blood cells into cells often shaped like crescent moons. The name “sickle-cell” comes from the crescent shape of the cells.
Normal red blood cells move easily through your blood vessels, taking oxygen to every part of your body, but sickle cells can get stuck and block blood vessels, and this stops the oxygen from getting through. That can cause a lot of pain.
Painful events are the most common symptom of sickle cell disease. Pain occurs when sickle cells get stuck in blood vessels and block the blood flow. These events usually cause pain in the hands, feet, belly, back, or chest. It can also harm organs, muscles, and bones.
Sickle-cell disease is an inherited disorder. This means that to have the disease, a person must inherit an abnormal gene from both parents. When the gene is inherited from just one parent, the child has the sickle cell trait but not the disease and is a carrier who could pass the gene on to their children.
People with sickle-cell disease often have anaemia, which is caused by a shortage of red blood cells. The sufferer feels weak and tired, the skin may look pale and the whites of their eyes may have a jaundiced look.