By: Halimat Olaniyan
This month we’re celebrating Women’s History Month by featuring sickle cell warrior, fierce advocate, and reproductive health trailblazer, Teonna Woolford. Teonna is also the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of SC RED, or the Sickle Cell Reproductive Health Education Directive. At its heart, SC RED is about what’s most important to Teonna – supporting other sickle cell warriors. At a young age, Teonna chose to undergo a bone marrow transfusion with one condition – she wanted to stay fertile. She knew that she wanted to have children someday and wanted to preserve the opportunity to have children of her own. On her journey to finding a cure for her sickle cell pain, she was met with hostility and basically told she was already not fertile from the consequences of sickle cell disease and its treatment. Though, we know lots of sickle cell patients on hydroxyurea and other treatments are able to have healthy, biological children. To make matters worse, her body rejected the transplant and so she still has hemoglobin SS, or sickle cell anemia, and is no longer fertile.
We cannot imagine how devastating and traumatic this time was for Teonna, who had always dreamed of having children of her own. But we know a lot of women with sickle cell share unique struggles in terms of their reproductive health. How to handle dating with sickle cell and family planning while managing treatment. SC RED does not discriminate. It offers community, support, and educational resources for all including men and members of the LGBTQ community. Addressing concerns like priapism, how sickle treatments affect fertility, and how to access high quality reproductive health care for all with sickle cell disease.
Teonna never had the chance to freeze her eggs. A lot of women can’t afford the egg freezing process, let alone storage, costing upwards of $10,000. Sickle cell patients already struggle to afford the expenses of hospital stays, doctor visits, and treatment. Teonna is committed to making reproductive options more accessible to everyone with sickle cell through education, awareness, and eventually being able to offer grants for anyone with sickle cell hoping to preserve their chances of having biological children if they so desire.