Philadelphia rapper raises awareness for sickle cell disease

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Kevin Exil from Northeast Philadelphia raps about the struggles you don't often hear about. His new album "Save Me" speaks to his 31-year battle with sickle cell disease. The rare genetic blood disorder hits the Black community hardest, and September is sickle cell awareness month.

"The hardest part is not only with pain, mentally you go through depression a lot because you're always in pain. You're normal and then there's pain again," Exil said.

The rapper has to inject antibiotics into his body several times a day to prevent infection and has spent his entire life in and out of the hospital. Sickle cell affects red blood cells, making them hard to move through small blood vessels.

"We have to do something because people are dying. My friend last year died from sickle cell and she was young," Exil said.

Sickle cell disease affects 100,000 Americans and according to the CDC, it affects 1 out of every 365 African American births, which is 73% of all cases.

"You're talking about multi-organ damage, debilitating bone on bone pain," said Dr. Nina Anderson with Tova Community Health.

The disease is deadly and extremely costly. Doctors especially urge African Americans to find out if they carry the sickle cell trait. Two parents with the trait have a 25% chance their child will have sickle cell disease.

"There's so many different in vitro ways they can implant a non-sickle cell embryo," Dr. Anderson advises.

Anderson says the good news is they are pushing towards a cure. In addition to a bone marrow transplant, there's also gene therapy, which so far, doctors have seen success.

"A young lady in her 20s actually went to an early phase one trial of gene therapy and is cleared of her sickle cell today," said Anderson.

And rapper Kevin Exil says every day he prays he too can be cured.
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