Sickle Cell Disease: Tanjanika Taylor

In just about a week, Grand Rapids will play host to a community awareness initiative with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and Michigan Blood. When it comes to blood and bone marrow donations, diversity is key in serving the largest scale of community groups. For example, recipients in the African American community have a much greater chance of obtaining a match if the donor is also an African American.

Tanjanika Taylor
Tanjanika Taylor

Blood and bone marrow donations are used to treat a number of different diseases. As an established spokesperson for Michigan Blood, Tanjanika Taylor has first hand experience on how essential these donations can be. She was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease when she was just two months old. Now 27, Taylor has been the recipient of hundreds of blood donations and is currently looking for a bone marrow donation.

Sickle Cell Disease occurs as a blood disorder when a person’s bone marrow produces sickle cells instead of healthy round red blood cells. Sickle cells are usually crescent or ‘banana’ shaped, causing difficulties when the red blood cells get stuck in the veins and cut off oxygen to vital organs in the body.

Taylor explains, “I am constantly in pain, every second. I have had many setbacks in my life like a stroke when I was 17, congestive heart failure when I was 20, a failing spleen, gall bladder removal, and simple day to day struggles like getting up in the morning, walking around, driving, and more.”

Though Taylor has received countless blood transfusions that have helped save her life, she knows that a bone marrow transplant is in her future because receiving so much blood is hard on a person’s liver. “You build antibodies [from all of the transfusions] and your blood type becomes hard to match from all of the transfusions,” says Taylor.

One of the most optimistic people I have had the privilege of speaking with, Taylor perseveres in this battle on a daily basis while using her vibrancy and strength as a way to help others. Taylor owns her own business as a motivational speaker and life coach. She travels to schools and other functions speaking to children and adults alike about her story and general life advice.

“My advice is to live your life as happy as possible and not to dwell, but to be thankful as it could always be worse. Your attitude has a big part to do with how you feel; if your mentality is not optimistic it will take longer to recover. I think we should make choices based on happiness and do the best that we can,” stresses Taylor.

Through her strength and optimism, Taylor places enormous credit in her support system of family and friends and is grateful and thankful for her family’s ability to provide her everything she needs both physically and mentally. She recognizes the importance of leaning on her loved ones and the notion of having a support system present at all times. It can be difficult on the caretakers of a person with a chronic illness, and she understands that the support system needs advice and help sometimes as well.

Taylor notes, “The biggest thing to remember is patience. It can be frustrating for the person battling a chronic condition, causing anger at times. However, be patient and remember not to take those times personally. Still be that listening ear and remain present through thick and thin.”

On October 12th, Grand Rapids will host a one-day blood and bone marrow drive to benefit patients just like Tanjanika Taylor. The event will also have free health screenings, snacks, entertainment, activities for families and children, and prizes. Join us on Saturday, October 12th at Ottawa Hills High School from 9AM to 3PM (2055 Rosewood Avenue in Grand Rapids, MI).

Have you taken the time to donate blood in your community?

Photo credit: Tanjanika Taylor

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