In her new memoir A Sick Life — TLC ‘n Me: Stories from On and Off the Stage, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins is opening up about her debilitating battle with the sickle-cell disease.
“I have to worry about it every day of my life,” Watkins, 47, says of her condition, in excerpts printed in the new issue of People. “You can be in so much pain you get delirious.”
The R&B star said she was 7 when diagnosed with the sickle-cell disease, which 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.
T-Boz says she was told by her doc that she wouldn’t live past age 30, she wouldn’t be able to conceive and that she’d be disabled her entire life.
“I looked around. Who was he talking about? I was going to be a famous performer,” T-Boz writes in the book, recalling her visit to the doctor. “He was clearly mistaken.”
Indeed, Watkins went on to launch one of the most successful musical acts of all time, forming TLC with Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes and Rozonda “Chilli” Thomas in 1991. She continued to struggle with her sickle-cell disease, landing in the hospital multiple times a year due to the illness. (In 1996, she found out what she actually has is sickle-beta thalassemia with arthritis, a form of the disease that is often less severe.)
In 2000, Watkins proved her doctor wrong twice over: Not only did she live past 30 years old, but she also welcomed daughter Chase with then-husband Dedrick “Mack 10” Rolison. But her sickle-cell disease led to dangerous post-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 writes in A Sick Life. “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.”
In May 2016, Watkins adopted her son Chance, from her hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. The singer says her expanded family keeps her strong.
“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 says. “I’ve got to keep a normal face on.”
Watkins, in her memoir, adds: “My life, my sick life has been tinged with illness. But I refuse to be defined by it.”
(Photo Credit: Sir Jones / PR Photos)
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