As we move into the Fall season, millions of teenagers across the U.S. are heading back to high school. And LaTia Bell, who is starting her senior year at Etowah High School, is one of them. Among the many activities she participates in, the hardworking 17-year-old loves playing tennis and studying science. Her excitement and work ethic are easy to see in both her academic and extracurricular records. But what isn’t as easy to see is the debilitating blood disorder that often leaves LaTia hospitalized for weeks at a time.
It’s called sickle cell disease, and it’s a genetic condition that prevents LaTia’s red blood cells from doing their job. Rather than becoming fully round, elastic, and healthy cells, LaTia’s red blood cells are brittle and crescent-shaped. These sickly cells are unable to carry the level of oxygen that the body needs and tend to die off much quicker than healthy cells do. For LaTia, this translates into constant fatigue and pain.
“Usually when I’m ill, I miss at least three days of school,” LaTia shared in an interview. Even though LaTia is constantly struggling against the symptoms of her disorder, she doesn’t let it rule her life. “I don’t actually let it hold me back in my dreams and what I love to do,” she said. In fact, LaTia has her heart set on becoming both a hematologist and a marine biologist. “I anticipate it to be somewhat stressful,” she laughed, “but I’m just ready to bring it on. One day, LaTia wants to cure herself. Currently, there is no cure for sickle cell disease. Patients are taught how to manage their symptoms and adjust their lifestyle in order to cope, but LaTia isn’t satisfied with that prognosis.
Part of finding that cure is spreading awareness. And that’s why LaTia often takes to social media to help educate people about sickle cell. “I want people to know about sickle cell and perhaps help make a change,” she said. Even though her disorder is a constant obstacle, LaTia’s struggles have shown her that she will be one of the people that will help change the future for sickle cell sufferers. “Sickle cell has made me feel down a great deal, but you can overcome anything. That is what I’ve learned – that anything could be overcome.”