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Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Given just three days to live at birth, Vernell has continually beaten the odds throughout her life.

Today, she is a mother, a grandmother, a recent college graduate, and a sickle cell survivor. None of those feats would have been possible without blood donors.

“I’m 61 years old,” the Winston-Salem native said. “I’ve had more than 15 blood transfusions over the years, and numerous surgeries. If it had not been for the blood transfusions that I received, I would not be here today.”


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.

“I had to have blood transfusions before surgery to make my body healthy,” she said. “If there were any complications during surgery, they would do another blood transfusion. I am so grateful for the community, and those who take time out to give blood on my behalf and others. I think it’s very important that people give blood because you may not know whose life you’re saving.”

Though Vernell lost sight in her right eye, she never lost her determination to live life to the fullest. Her illness and life’s hardships made staying in school difficult, but 25 years after starting her path to a degree at Forsyth Technical Community College, Vernell earned her associate degree in Human Services Technology. She credits the success to her great support system at home at and at church, to God, and to volunteer blood donors.

“Through it all, I’m just thankful to be alive,” she said. “I enjoy every day of my life. I laugh every day of my life. And I dance every day of my life.”

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