Learning to Swim with Sickle Cell

Learning to Swim with Sickle Cell

Swimming is an essential life skill. Everyone should learn to swim, as it could be the difference between life and death.

My parents believed similarly and signed me up for swimming lessons as a child. However, I don’t remember the lessons so much as the pain and frequent hospital admissions. My parents, instructors, and doctors all concluded that my lessons had to stop. They were not worth the frequent sickle cell crises.

Swimming looked like such a fun activity, but I couldn’t participate. During my siblings’ swimming lessons, I sat with a group of parents waiting for their kids to finish. Sometimes I even dipped my hand into the water to convince my parents it was warm enough — that never worked.

People with sickle cell typically avoid swimming because it can trigger a crisis. Swimming can be risky for sickle cell patients due to the following:

  • The sudden temperature change: Moving from warm air to cold water to warm air again can alter the ease of blood flow and increase the chance of blood clots.
  • The strain of exercise: The physical motions of swimming require a lot of energy. Swimming against water can be tedious and reduce the amount of oxygen in our system. Low oxygen levels can trigger fatigue and crises.

Now that I am older, I am more aware of crisis triggers and have decided to restart my swimming lessons. To make swimming as safe as possible, I limit my time in the water and dry myself as much as possible. I shower in warm water, dress quickly, and even drink warm water, all to keep me warm. I also go to bed at least an hour early the day before my lesson to make sure I get enough rest. My swimming instructor needs to understand my health condition and the precautions I must take and know what to do if I feel ill.

I am taking steps to reduce the risk of a crisis, but they are still possible. Before my lesson, I make sure I have everything I need, including painkillers and a warm environment.

I am looking forward to learning how to swim and hope that history will not repeat itself!

Do you know how to swim? I would love to hear any tips you have.


Note: Sickle Cell Anemia News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Anemia News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell anemia.

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  1. Maria says:

    Hi Tito! Great blog post, this was very informative. I’m writing a children’s novel about a British-Nigerian 13 year old boy who has sickle cell. It would be great to have more information about the disease so I can make the character as realistic as possible.

    • Tito Oye says:

      Hi Maria,

      Thank you, I’m happy you found it useful!

      I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you have to help make your character more realistic.

    • Kay says:

      What do you want to know? although I’m not a boy I was a 13 year old American girl with sickle cell 10 years ago lol

  2. Anika " MJ's " Grandma says:

    Greetings, great information i want my 7yr old grandson “MJ” to learn to swim, so i am on a search. Thank you so much looking to see {TV}, hear{Radio} more from you in the future.

    • Tito Oye says:

      Hi Anika,

      Hopefully you find everything you’re looking for to make it as safe and enjoyable for MJ!

      Ahh I’m looking forward to that too 😀

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