From influencing what we feed our families at dinner to launching several online careers, it’s no secret that the rise of food blogging has been meteoric. However for Krissy Davis, a Sickle Cell Warrior and the content creator behind Krissy’s Kitchen, crafting healthy new recipes and sharing them with others takes on an even greater meaning. More than her favorite pastime, as someone affected by sickle cell disease, exercising creativity in the kitchen six days a week is therapeutic. “Living with sickle cell can be really daunting — if you let it,” Davis tells ESSENCE. “Cooking is an escape that gives me the most peace.”
The daughter of Haitian parents, Davis credits learning her mother’s signature recipes as the catalyst to her love affair with food: “Every party we would have, there would be tables and tables of glorious Haitian food,” she recalls. “I never understood how someone was able to make all of it [until] I started hanging around my mom about 10 years ago, watching her cook. I found the entire process to be very relaxing.”
Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders, in which healthy, round red blood cells become hard, sticky and turn into crescent-shaped cells that look like a banana or a crescent moon. Once deformed, the unhealthy cells are known to both die early and have difficulty performing their main function: traveling through small blood vessels, carrying oxygen to the entire body. This in turn often causes anemia, a perpetual shortage of red blood cells, and clogging of the blood vessels.
For Davis, she developed avascular necrosis (or the deterioration of bone tissue due to a lack of blood supply) in her left femur. At age 14, she underwent hip-replacement surgery as a result. “There isn’t a day where I’m not reminded of having this disease, the now 36-year-old says, “which can make it really hard to navigate normal life.”
SCD affects roughly 100,000 Americans, but it disproportionately occurs in individuals of sub-Saharan African descent. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 out of every 365 African-American babies is born with sickle cell, and about 1 in 13 African-American babies is born with Sickle Cell Trait (SCT).
Furthering her understanding of sickle cell remains key to Davis’ survival — especially given that widespread education surrounding SCD hasn’t always existed. Growing up in Michigan, during the 80s, with an undiagnosed blood disorder was far from ideal: “Back then, they didn’t automatically test newborns for SCD, so my parents had no idea I had it,” Davis explains. She wasn’t diagnosed with sickle cell disease until age 7. “[My] doctors didn’t know enough where we lived; all they knew was that cold weather wasn’t good for a child with SCD,” she says.
To learn about SCD in greater detail, Davis’ family soon relocated to Georgia, home to one of the country’s leading sickle cell centers. “For me and my health, that’s when everything changed,” she recalls. At the local hospital, “there was a black female hematologist who understood and took me under her wing; she sought out tutors to help with my classes — everything she did really meant a lot.”
Aside from the hematologist’s care, Davis stresses it was her mother’s support that kept her alive through adolescence and into adulthood. “There have been so many times when I’ve wanted to quit fighting and give up,” she shares, “and it has been my mom — the biggest advocate for me next to my husband — who seems to always show up in the dark hour.”
Realizing many SCD patients don’t have access to this type of advocacy, at age 26 the Sickle Cell Warrior/wife/mother added yet another title behind her name: mentor. Whenever she’s contacted by those in need of advice or a listening ear to prevent the pain from “taking over,” Davis makes good on her promise to be there. “SCD can be a very depressing disease,” Davis says. Yet just like the comfort of cooking and blogging about great food, “helping others get through their hard times also helps me.”