All One Blood

January 19, 2018
PHOTOGRAPHY BY UI HEALTH—HOSS FATEMI AND JOHN FRANCIS

Nana Kwabena was in and out of the hospital as a kid. He was born with sickle cell disease. It is a blood disorder. It can be passed from parents to children.

Kwabena is now a Grammy Award–nominated record producer. His brother, Kwame Baffoe-Bonnie, died of the disease in 2011. A year later, Kwabena started AllOneBlood. The organization helps people who have sickle cell disease.

Singer John Legend visits sickle cell disease patients at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles in 2013.

ALL ONE BLOOD

AllOneBlood brings cheer to kids in hospitals. When Kwabena was being treated, the hospital sometimes had a famous guest. “They never stopped to visit the hematology clinic,” Kwabena told TFK. (Hematology is a branch of medicine that involves the study of blood.) “I remember the feeling of that,” he says. That’s why Kwabena brings VIPs to visit children who are hospitalized with sickle cell disease.

A Forgotten Disease

Sickle cell disease affects about 100,000 people in the United States. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People with the disease have hard red blood cells shaped like a sickle. (A sickle is a farm tool with a blade shaped like a C.) Red blood cells are normally soft and round. They carry oxygen through the body. But sickle-shaped cells can clog blood vessels. This makes it hard for the body to get oxygen. It can cause pain.

A sickle cell is shaped like a crescent, unlike a normal red blood cell, which is round.

DR. STANLEY FLEGLER—VISUALS UNLIMITED/GETTY IMAGES

Studies show that one out of every 365 African-American children is born with the disease. So is one out of every 16,300 Hispanic American children. Many people wrongly believe that the disease affects only minorities. Many people know little about it. So some call sickle cell the forgotten disease.

The Road Ahead

AllOneBlood raises money to find a cure. There are signs of hope. In 2015, the University of Illinois Hospital, in Chicago, announced that it had cured the disease in 12 adults.

Kwabena hopes to raise awareness about sickle cell. “I encourage kids to know that if you have sickle cell disease—or anything—that makes you who you are,” he says. “[It] can become a superpower for you to navigate the world with.”