Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins, from the successful ‘90s girl group TLC, was once told as a child that she wouldn’t live past 30 or have children and that she would be disabled most of her life. Now at 49, and a mother of two, Watkins proved all doctors that misdiagnosed her wrong.
Tionne Watkins was born with a blood disorder known as sickle cell disease.
As a baby, she would cry her eyes out from the pain, not being able to communicate what affected her, and leaving her parents and doctors completely dumbfounded, as they couldn’t figure out what illness she had.
In 1977, and after countless misdiagnoses from several doctors, an Indian doctor at the Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, finally solved the mystery. He told Tionne and her mom that she had sickle cell disease and arthritis.
He also told 7-year-old Tionne that she wouldn’t live past 30, she couldn’t have children and that she was doomed to be disabled her entire life.
“I looked around the room, staring at my mama and this doctor. Who was he talking about? This wasn’t my story. I was going to be a famous performer. He was clearly mistaken,” Watkins recalled in her memoir book “A Sick Life: TLC ‘n Me: Stories from On and Off the Stage.”
It hasn’t been easy, but against all the odds, Tionne has managed to overcome that doctor’s dire prediction of her future.
She was adequately diagnosed at 28 with a particular type of sickle cell called “sickle-beta thalassemia with arthritis,” which is a blood disorder that reduces the production of hemoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen.
Sickle cell disease “causes red blood cells to stick to vessel walls, blocking blood flow and preventing oxygen from reaching tissues; the lack of oxygen can damage organs and cause pain so severe it requires hospitalization.”
Because of that, Tionne spent much of her time going in and out of hospitals, even when she was at her prime with TLC. But that never stopped her.
Then, in 2000, she became pregnant with her daughter Chase, whom she shares with ex-husband Dedrick “Mack 10” Rolison. However, her disease led to some birth complications.
“On the first night, the nurses told me I needed to breastfeed her. It seemed like the right thing to do. And they make you feel so guilty if you don’t pop your t**s out for the baby immediately,” Watkins wrote in her book.
“But sickle-cell patients need every drop of fluid they can get, and losing that much breast milk almost stopped my heart. Eventually, my body shut down, and I fell into a coma. I spent three days unconscious in the ICU.”
That was the first of several events that marked Tionne’s life in a row.
Two years later, Lisa Lopes died in a car crash while in Honduras. Then, Atkins divorced from Rolison in 2004, battle a brain tumor in 2006.
Through it all, Tionne’s daughter was the reason that kept her fighting.
“Often, it’s hard to breathe or walk,” she wrote. “Some days, I wake up consumed by pain. It’s like knives stabbing me over and over again in my joints. Chase gave me a reason to keep pushing through.”
In 2016, Tionne added a new reason to keep pushing through her disease: she adopted son Chance from her hometown in Des Moines, Iowa.
“You don’t want your kids to know you think you might die. I don’t want my daughter or son to feel my pain,” she stated. “I’ve got to keep a normal face on.”
: “My life, my sick life has been tinged with illness. But I refuse to be defined by it.”
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