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Justina

Raleigh, North Carolina

Growing up, Justina spent so much time in a hospital room that the nurses planned to put her name on the door.

“Birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving – you name the holiday, I’ve spent it in the hospital,” she said. “My mom said I was going to have a specific room because I was in and out so much.”

Justina was diagnosed with sickle cell disease when she was 3 months old. The first blood transfusion she remembers receiving was when she was 3. It was the first of many.

Justina

“From then on, I was the sickest baby,” Justina said. “I had so many transfusions, I can’t even put a number on it. Sometimes it was life-threatening – this has to be done or that’s it.”

When she was younger, Justina always asked who gave the blood that doctors were pumping into her small body. She wanted to write to them and thank them for saving her life.

“I do owe a lot to those donors,” Justina said. “In that moment, when you really need blood, your parents can’t give it to you. I don’t have any siblings to give it to me. So who’s going to give it to me other than someone I completely and honestly don’t know?”

When you have as many blood transfusions as Justina, your blood changes and takes on characteristics of the blood you receive. It becomes more difficult – and more important – to get an exact match to avoid complications. It is vital that more people donate, increasing the diversity of our local blood supply and ensuring the specific blood needed by people like Justina is available.

“It’s very important that people do give blood,” she said. “Sickle cell disease is something that’s out of our control. It’s not like we asked for it.”

Justina has seen first-hand the need for education and advocacy surrounding sickle cell disease and blood donation. Those experiences have served as a driving force for finishing her master's in social work at Johnson C. Smith University.

“I’ve had a lot friends who have passed away from sickle cell. My best friend from camp passed away from sickle cell at 22,” Justina said. “From then on, I knew that I had to continue with what our dreams were, getting this out there to the people and letting them know what sickle cell is and that we matter.”

She hopes to use her own life as an example to help others living with the disease.

“My aunt always told me, ‘Don’t be afraid to tell your story. Nobody can tell it better than you can,’” Justina said. “So for me to give inspiration to that little girl or that little boy, is all I ever want in life because it makes me feel like I did something. Like that was my purpose.”

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