Approximately two million Americans carry the sickle cell trait, which increases the chance that the disorder is passed on to their children.
Sickle cell disease is the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States affecting those of African descent and Hispanics of Caribbean ancestry, but the trait has also been found in those with Middle Eastern, Indian, Latin American, Native American, and Mediterranean heritage. One in every 500 African-American births is affected with sickle cell disease.
The two most common forms of sickle cell disease are sickle cell trait and sickle cell anemia. They are characterized by defective hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to the tissues of the body. This defective hemoglobin interferes with the red blood cells ability to carry oxygen.
Those who inherited the sickle cell trait have one defective gene, and no symptoms to moderate symptoms of the disease in most cases. If a person has sickle cell anemia, the most common and most severe form of the disease, they are at risk for many problems:
—Anemia (very low blood counts)
—Pain crisis or sickle cell crisis – which causes almost every joint in your body to
hurt, usually requiring hospitalization, strong pain medicines, and IV fluids
—Acute chest syndrome which is similar to pneumonia, but much more painful
—Decreased life expectancy
If children are screened at birth and/or parents who are unsure of their status are screened, sickle cell disease can be significantly reduced by education alone.
A full description of all things sickle cell is way beyond the scope of this article, however I wanted my friends who read my column for AllHipHop.com to really understand this preventable disease, so I called on Prodigy of Mobb Deep to help me out.
H2D [at the office in Baton Rouge, LA]: P, whats good? How are you feeling?
Prodigy: [driving through Manhattan]: Im good; whats good with you Doc?
H2D: The same thing; trying to bring more awareness to the Hip-Hop community on health issues. Man, I would like for you to enlighten us about something youve dealt with all your life. Tell me about sickle cell disease and how it has affected you.
Prodigy: I mean basically, I was diagnosed with sickle cell when I was three months old. I have the worse type of sickle cell, the SS type. If I dont take care of myself and do the right things, I will experience a severely painful sickle cell crisis; all my joints hurt; its a bad scene. Before I really knew how to take care of myself. I was in and out of the hospital, they had me on morphine for pain; IVs in my arm; couldnt get comfortable for days at a time it was really hard on my body.
H2D: Are you taking any medicines right now?
Prodigy: Nahhhh! I dont take none of these medicines that they try to say is good to take for sickle cell. All I do is try to have a healthy diet as much as possible; I drink water like a fish, eat healthy, and I notice that since Ive been doing that for the past seven to eight years, I dont get sick as much as I use too. If I do get sick, its really because of something I’m doing wrong.
I really know my body and how to control it.
H2D: Yeah, thats whats up. Now, in 2000, you wrote the song “You Can Never Feel My Pain” on your first solo album, HNIC. This song really dealt with the harsh realities of sickle cell and how it affected you. Almost like sickle cell 101. What motivated you to write that piece?
Prodigy: Basically because at every Mobb Deep show, I would see somebody in the crowd, and they would yell to me like Yo P, I got sickle cell too. And they would ask how I was able to perform and do all that I do. I always encourage my fans that they should reach for their goals and reach high when doing it; and to further this point I decided to drop something on my album to tell people about the pain that I and others with sickle cell suffer with, which is a handicap no different than living in poverty, but that its something you can escape.
H2D: Im sure you know T-Boz has sickle cell. She was a national spokes person for the disease back in the day.
Prodigy: Yeah, I wanted T-Boz to get on that song with me. So I actually reached out to her, went down to Atlanta and played the song for her. She came to the studio, liked the song, but we both decided that it was best for me to roll with that approach.
We had a long conversation about sickle cell and this drug called hydroxyurea. We talked about this drug and some the side effects. She had decided at the time to not take the medicine. I kinda felt like we were being used as guinea pigs when they try to come up with these new drugs. Thats why I really dont take or promote some of the medicines.
H2D: I can respect that. Well, other than ”You Can Never Feel My Pain,” do you have any new songs dedicated to creating awareness about sickle cell?
Prodigy: I already did the song and I dont want to keep doing the same old thing. Im gonna start being more vocal about it, like with this [interview]. When I get out [of prison] and get home, I want to hook up with you and do the community thing you got going on; talk to some kids and tell them what its like to live with sickle cell and how they can still be successful. You can just set something up and Ill roll with you. Thats good sh** what you doing Doc.
H2D: Yeah, thats real talk. It has been a challenge, but one I welcome. You know lately, theres been a lot of things going on in regards to health and Hip-Hop: Kayne West and his mother’s death; Foxy Brown and her battle with hearing loss; Pimp C leaving us way too early; Nate Dogg having a stroke do you think the Hip-Hop culture is taking health issues seriously?
Prodigy: A lot of young peoples attitude is they feel invincible. Its like someone who has sickle cell and someone who doesnt? The person who doesnt have sickle cell thinks they can drink, smoke, eat anything and everything, just go hard and say, Hey, Im okay. If I do that, it affects me immediately.
They may not feel the effects until 30, 40, 50 years later when they got heart problems, lung problems, and they are dying from things they could have prevented. To me, sickle cell is like an alarm system, because it lets me know when Im doing something wrong.
H2D: Definitely! What advice would you give to the young people growing up and living with sickle cell?
Prodigy: The number one rule for people with sickle cell, as far as Im concerned, is their diet has to be strict. You damn near have to be a vegetarian to avoid getting sick and having a painful sickle cell crisis. You have got to take care of your health. Eat a healthy diet, drink lots of water, and eat lots of vegetables. I guarantee that if you do that and get all the impurities out of your system, you will see a hundred percent turnaround.
H2D: What kind of stuff do you eat?
Prodigy: Like today, I might have baked salmon, brown rice, and green vegetables. I try to stay away from the poisonous food additives. I dont drink sodas or eat a lot of junk. This is the plan you have to follow to keep the impurities out of your body. You gotta really eat healthy; break it down to a science and start learning how to read labels and know what ingredients are good and bad for you.
And I know I keep saying this, but you gotta drink mad water. It helps wash away all impurities and poison in the body.
H2D: P, thanks for your time. Anything else you would like to say to AllHipHop?
Prodigy: Just support the real sh## that we putting out there man, ’cause theres a lot of people who are not being real. They are chasing some outrageous dream. Im staying grounded. Im focusing on real sh**.
So, just support real artist like Mobb Deep and myself. Check out my website at HNIC2.com. A lot of good information, and I will have my address up so that they can write me letters while Im locked up.