Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a group of inherited blood disorders affecting approximately 100,000 Americans — and about 8 percent of African Americans. The disease causes red blood cells to be C-shaped instead of round, limiting their ability to carry oxygen.
“If you’re born with sickle cell, all you’re going to hear is, ‛Oh, you can’t do this, you can’t do that,’” said pro basketball player Billy Garrett Jr. “And they’ll tell you that it’s a long shot if you want to be an athlete.”
Not a disability
Garrett was diagnosed with sickle cell at birth and was initially discouraged from playing sports. “But I just didn’t know any better,” he said with a laugh. “My parents never allowed me to consider sickle cell a disability. Understand how it affects your body, and with that understanding, go live your life.”
Garrett proved that athletes can play at a high level with sickle cell. In 2018, he became the first known player with sickle cell in the NBA.
Listening to your body
“Endurance is probably the biggest challenge,” Garrett said. “I would push myself past my limits, and it would cause me to have a crisis.”
Garrett learned from those mistakes and credits a healthy diet and good hydration with overcoming the limitations of the disease. Today, he’s a celebrity ambassador for the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America.
“It’s incredibly important. Sickle cell is prominent in the Black community, and the disease as a whole doesn’t get enough recognition,” he said. “More knowledge about it helps us to stay healthy.”
For Garrett, the fight is personal.
“I’ve been in those hospital rooms, and I’ve had those crises,” he said. “If I can help one person, inspire one person, that makes it worth it.”