This complicated blood disorder affects 1 in 400 African Americans. But how did we discover it in the first place?

SeekerPublished: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018
Published: July 10, 2018Updated: July 11, 2018

Sickle Cell Anemia is a blood disorder, where instead of supple soft-frisbee red blood cells that live for 120 days, your body forms stiff pointy sickle-shaped cells that only live for 10 to 20 days. RBCs need to be soft and pliable to squeeze through your blood vessels safely and efficiently, so when they’re pointy they can get stuck in vessels.

When this happens in the chest, abdomen or joints it can cause pain, if they get stuck in the hands or feet you can get swelling, and of course if they get stuck in organs they can  cause infections or (if they get caught in the eye) vision problems. The brittle cells can break apart, delaying oxygen delivery and causing fatigue.

It was first described in 1910, in a dental student named Walter Clement Noel who went to a doctor in Chicago complaining of pain, but this student wasn’t from Chicago -- he was from Grenada. Sickle cell anemia predominantly affects approximately 1 in 400 African American births. It was a disease known in Africa for five thousand years, but it hadn’t been described in Western Medicine before 100 years ago.

The doctor in Chicago, who’s name was James B. Herrick was the first to describe it in a paper and over the next century many doctors have attempted to uncover how this debilitating disorder works, and why it mainly affects those of African descent. In the 1930s, a D.C.-based doctor named William Cardozo was one of the first black doctors to conduct research into this disease, and he did so with a grant from Alpha Phi Alpha the first black Fraternal organization.

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