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Sickle cell disease kills most people before 50. George Carter is 77: 'You can have a very productive life'

Posted at 10:28 AM, Mar 31, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. -- George Carter and James Frazier II have beaten the odds. Both Richmond men are living with sickle cell disease.

The genetic blood disorder proves fatal for most people before they reach the age of 50.

Frazier is now 60. Carter is 77.

Carter remembers when his crisis began at the age of five. He was walking to the bus with his guardian.

"They took me to the hospital and doctors knew so little then. They removed the glands from under my arm and thought that was going to take care of the crisis. Of course, it didn't," he said.

Some people say sickle cell disease is more painful than cancer.

“During the time of my life, on three occasions, the pain has been so bad that I prayed to God to let me die," Carter said.

He also said he remembered the day, during his freshman year in college, a doctor delivered the life-altering news.

George Carter
GeNienne Samuels talks to George Carter about sickle cell disease.

"You probably won't live past 21," he said the doctor told him. "I didn't have a momma there to cry on. So that was a hard day."

Carter has since lived long past 21 and dedicated his adult life to helping others who live with the disease through the Sickle Cell Association of Richmond.

"You can have a very productive life. Enjoy it. Don't overdo it. But enjoy it," he said.

James Frazier II, a pharmacist at Richmond Community Hospital, is just one person Carter has helped over the years.

James Frazier II
GeNienne Samuels walks with James Frazier II, a pharmacist at Richmond Community Hospital.

"He has a heart for people with sickle cell and their families," Frazier said.

Frazier has also lived well past his doctor’s prediction.

“I remember a physician telling my mother that I would not make it past 20 years of age," he said.

Sickle cell actually helped Frazier become stronger and tackle other challenges.

“I had a gallbladder surgery. The very next day, I was up shooting in a rec room. They were like, ‘You're up already?’ I'm like, ‘Yeah.” Major surgery was nothing compared to a sickle cell crisis.”

Frazier goes to the hospital every six weeks for an exchange transfusion.

He has two ports.

One, they draw blood out. The other, they give him blood.

He calls it an “oil change.”

Both men, and sickle cell experts, offered some advice to those living with the disease that could lead to a longer, healthier life:

  • Eat healthy foods
  • Have a balanced diet
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Exercise to build up your muscles and bones
  • Avoid tobacco
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Get plenty of rest each night
  • Avoid stress whenever possible

They also urged people to know their sickle cell status. In Virginia alone, the Health Department estimates that 2,500 to 4,500 African American residents have sickle cell disease.
Virginia added hemoglobinopathies screening, which tests for blood disorders, to its newborn testing in July 1989.

If you were born before 1989, you could be a carrier of the sickle cell trait and not know it.

RELATED: Richmond family shares their sickle cell story of love and loss

If you have a child with someone who also has the trait, there is a 25% chance that your child will be born with sickle cell disease.

You can help the sickle cell community by spreading awareness and/or donating time or money to organizations like OSCAR the sickle cell association of Richmond or by calling 804-321-3311

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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