HOT 97 Summer Jam 2017

Source: Taylor Hill / Getty

When news broke that Prodigy, one half of famed Queensbridge rap duo Mobb Deep, had passed away at the young age of 42, dedicated fans were saddened—but, perhaps, not wholly surprised. The rapper, born Albert Johnson, was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at the age of three and discussed his life with the illness in great detail in his 2011 autobiography, The Infamous.

In a statement confirming her client’s death, Prodigy’s publicist said that the rapper had been hospitalized following a sickle cell crisis in the days leading up to his passing. As fans come to terms with the tragic loss, we looked to CASSIUS’ health expert Nurse Noel to help you better understand sickle cell.

According to the Mayo Clinic, sickle cell anemia is an inherited form of anemia and is a condition in which there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body’s tissue and organs. The term was derived from the rigid and sickle, or oblong, shape of the red blood cells—they’re usually round and flexible—of those with the disease. “When a person experiences a sickle cell crisis they are typically in tremendous pain,” says Noel. “That means that their body tissue and organs aren’t receiving enough oxygen. Think about when your leg or arm falls asleep because it’s folded and blood isn’t flowing—now multiple that pain by a million.”

It’s Genetic.

Parents with the sickle cell trait pass it along to their children. Additionally, if both parents have the trait or disease, there is an increased likelihood that they will produce a child who has the disease; one in four children born to two parents with the trait have the disease. Carriers do not typically experience any symptoms themselves. There are multiple forms of sickle cell disease, with the most common being sickle cell anemia. Get tested to know your status.

African-Americans Have the Highest Risk.

Recent studies show that one out of 12 African-Americans carry the sickle cell gene. Blacks are more likely to have the sickle cell trait and, subsequently, produce offspring who have sickle cell anemia. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute reports that some 100,000 people in the United States have sickle cell disease, and most of them are African-American. Other well-known sufferers include T-Boz, Miles Davis, and Georgeanna Tillman Gordon of Motown girl group The Marvellettes.

Sickle Cell Crisis Is Painful

Sickle cell crisis happens when blood flow to organs and tissue has been severely impaired. Patients experience extreme pain and must be hospitalized to prevent organs from shutting down.

The Disease Is Difficult to Cure

The only known cure for sickle cell disease is hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, which is a transplant from peripheral blood, bone marrow or umbilical cord blood. However, it is an uncommon procedure, as most patients are too old to undergo the transplant or don’t have a well-matched donor. Treatment for sickle cell anemia focuses on patient stabilization and pain management. Once hospitalized, patients are given oxygen, pain medication via IV and blood transfusions.

Find out more about sickle cell here.