By Ashley Henyan
Teanika Hoffman loves her dog, speaks fluent Thai and holds a master’s degree from Eastern University. She is also a sickle cell warrior on a mission to provide direct services to patients living with sickle cell disease throughout Prince George’s County and Southern Maryland.
“I don’t want patients fighting sickle cell to go through what I had to go through,” said Teanika.
That’s why she started the Sickle Cell Coalition of Maryland, which – still in its infancy – plans to provide continuing education to patients, their families and the community surrounding sickle cell disease. She also posts regularly on her blog to address the stigma associated with living with sickle cell disease.
Teanika was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Type SC Disease around the age of two. By the time she was ten years old she had already had four surgeries. And as part of the pre-operative care for each, she underwent a blood transfusion.
“I remember watching Sesame Street while being transfused and thinking I’m a big girl and I can handle this,” Teanika said. “But in reality, it was the blood transfusions—they were necessary to keep me alive on the operating table.”
Teanika will never forget a turning point in her fight, the first time she experienced a severe sickle cell pain crisis. It occurred when she was in the fifth grade.
“I was in English class and remember raising my hand, but I couldn’t describe what I was feeling or what was happening to my body,” Teanika said. “Somehow I was able to stand and walk to the hallway, but in the hallway I just collapsed. It was like time slowed down—and I’m not sure how I made it to the nurse’s office, but I did!”
Sickle cell disease distorts soft and round red blood cells and turns them hard and crescent-shaped. As a result, blood has difficulty flowing smoothly and carrying oxygen through a sickle cell warrior’s body. This may lead to severe pain, tissue and organ damage, anemia, and even strokes. Regular blood transfusions are critical to manage extreme pain and life-threatening complications that can arise in patients fighting sickle cell disease.
“I can explain the pain related to a sickle cell crisis like someone taking your finger and slamming it in the car door,” Teanika said. “Then imagine them slamming that same finger again and again in the car door – repeatedly.”
Unfortunately, frequent transfusions can make finding compatible blood types more difficult when patients develop an immune response against blood from donors that is not closely matched to the blood of the recipient. One in three African American blood donors are a match for people with sickle cell disease. To help ensure patients have the blood products they need, the American Red Cross is working with partners in the Black community during sickle cell awareness month 2022 and for the long-term—to grow the number of blood donors who are Black.
“I think the healthcare community needs to up their game, related to education and awareness—but imagine if the public learned more about how they can help patients fighting sickle cell disease,” said Teanika. “I’m glad the Red Cross is working on this campaign to increase blood donations from closely matched donors.”
The Red Cross launched the Sickle Cell Initiative in 2021 to inspire support for patients. In the initiative’s first year, the number of first-time African American blood donors who gave with the Red Cross increased by 60%. Now, however, is the time to build on this momentum with national and local partner organizations, who are critical to building trust, sharing information and working together to engage new donors and help save lives. If you or your organization are interested in joining these efforts, please visit: http://www.redcrossblood.org/OurBlood