HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Sickle Cell Anemia is a disease passed through families where the shape of red blood cells is deformed and delivers less oxygen to body tissues. There are also fewer red blood cells in the body.
Glenn Merchant's sickle cell was diagnosed at a very young age. He said he was in and out of hospitals several times.
"My joints would swell and of course they would be painful," he said.
A pain crisis usually sends the patient to the hospital. Merchant said most of his problems centered in the joints.
"I did go through a lot of crisis before school. I remember… once I started school, it was a little bit less," he said.
Blood cells can be demonstrated by toothpicks. The healthy ones go straight through the vessel, but when Sickle Cells try to go through the same vessel, they have a tendency to clog.
"It starts out like a slow ache and increases in intensity," said Merchant.
Merchant lost a brother to the disease. Most of his siblings have the sickle cell trait. One sister does not have the trait. His son carries the trait, but not the disease.
When two carriers marry, it increases the chances a child will have the disease.
Merchant changed his diet, eliminating chocolate and dairy, and said that helps.
The disease left him disabled, but when he feels well enough, he volunteers at the North Alabama Sickle Cell Foundation.
He advises others to educate themselves about the disease and how day to day activities can affect them.
He said knowledge can make the disease livable.