Growing up, no one knew what was wrong with the small, sickly child. She would tire easily, and often suffered from episodes of intense pain.
It wasn’t until Vernell was in her late teens that a test determined she had sickle cell disease. Though she was scared when doctors gave her just a few more years to live, she finally had an explanation for the agony she had experienced throughout her life.
“The pain is excruciating,” she said. “It makes you feel like there’s somebody with a knife just sticking it into your bones. Just a sharp, stabbing pain.”
When pain strikes, medication can only do so much to help. Blood transfusions are often required to replace her sickled cells with healthy ones.
“The blood really is a very important part,” Vernell said. “Pain medication only lasts for a little while, and it goes away. But the blood is what sustains me. It’s what keeps me going.”
Transfusions also played a vital role in the four eye surgeries required to treat her retina disease brought on by sickle cell.