Photo Credit: Gina S. Desir
Traveler Story: 'I Don't Let Sickle Cell Disease Stop Me From Seeing The World'
Gina S. Desir is a 26-year-old nurse traveling the world with sickle cell disease. She is also currently a graduate student pursuing a Master’s degree. Originally from Haiti, she is now based in Boston, and is happily married with a six-year-old son. Gina began traveling solo several years ago because she wanted to discover new cultures and interact with different people.
“Once I started traveling, I began to discover new skills in myself,” she told Travel Noire. “My travels taught me new things while encouraging me to be patient and maintain perspective. I’ve realized how resilient I am with my health issues. Now the more I travel, the more I want to travel. I literally will search for my next destination while I am still on vacation. I’m proud to be where I am now and be able to travel the world, because not too long, ago that wasn’t the case.”
Before meeting her partner, says Gina, her love life was a disaster. She became pregnant while in her first year of college. She had been dating her high school sweetheart, at the time, but soon found herself a single mother at the age of 21.
“My parents were very disappointed and ashamed of my life decisions, at first. I went through a lot of dark times alone during my pregnancy. I was suicidal and initially suffered from postpartum depression.
But my baby boy changed my life for the better. He made me stronger than ever before!”
Through patience, faith, and hard work, Gina was able to complete nursing school and greatly improve her life circumstances. She found joy in motherhood and now wears the title as a golden badge of honor.
“I was chosen by God to be his mother, and God doesn’t make mistakes. I am prouder of the years I’ve spent as his mother than I am of any other part of my life.”
Gina recently visited Guatemala and El Salvador, as part of her goal to visit different parts of Central America this year. She says these countries, often outshined by more popular Central American destinations like Mexico, Costa Rica, and Belize, are underrated gems more people need to explore.
“Both Guatemala and El Salvador have some of the best luxury hotels that offer truly breathtaking views,” she explained. “In Guatemala, I stayed at Hotel Casa Santo Domingo and Sababa Resort. In El Salvador, I stayed at Acandilados Hotel, Cardedeu Hotel, Lagarza Hostel, and Villa Bueno Vista Hotel. The staff of these places showed amazing hospitality and made me feel right at home. In El Salvador, breakfast was always included.”
During her stay in Guatemala, Gina visited the unique and enchanting town of Hobbitenango, or ‘Place of the Hobbits,’ located nine km northeast of Antigua’s city center. The small, whimsical town is home to the must-see Lord of the Rings type hobbit holes and an Insta-worthy giant wooden hand sculpture at Altamira.
“I also visited Lake Atilan in the Guatemalan Highlands, and various local markets. My favorite part was just interacting with the locals, learning about their culture, and trying different foods.”
There was, however, one activity Gina opted to skip.
“Although I really wanted to, it was not in my best interest to hike a volcano. Having sickle cell disease, the lack of oxygen at high altitudes could possibly trigger a crisis. It was disappointing to have to skip it, but I have to look after my health first.”
Sickle cell disease affects around 100,000 Americans, with one out of every 365 Black babies being born with it. The disease affects hemoglobin, the molecule in red cells that delivers oxygen to cells throughout the body. The blood of people with the disease can sometimes be chronically low in oxygen. This lack of oxygen can damage nerves and organs and in some cases, can be fatal.
“While traveling I have sometimes dealt with symptoms such as severe migraines, fatigue, and dizziness. While it is good for me to remain active, I have to refrain from intense activities that can cause me to become seriously out of breath. However, I don’t let sickle cell disease stop me from seeing the world.”
Gina has found the best way to manage her sickle cell disease while traveling is to have an early breakfast, drink lots of fluids, such as natural juices and warm water, stay well rested, and use relaxation techniques when necessary. She also always makes sure to carry emergency painkillers and vitamin C with her everywhere she goes.
“I was born with the disease, so I can say I did not have the best childhood. But if you are secretly dealing with sickle cell disease, I am here to tell you that you are not alone. So many others are impacted by sickle cell, and it is possible to live a full and enjoyable life with it.”
Gina hopes that her experiences can help inspire and motivate others; especially single mothers and individuals secretly dealing with a medical diagnosis or invisible illness.
“Go explore the world! Make time for yourself, be humble, and do your best to remain at peace. Don’t let your past life situations or choices define you. What we dwell on is who we become. If you can do what you do best and be happy, you are further along in life than most people. So ask yourself this daily: what would you do if you weren’t afraid? It doesn’t matter how slowly you go; as long you do not stop.”
Gina will soon be heading to Ecuador. She will also be visiting Dubai, Puerto Rico, Canada, Haiti, and several lesser-known cities in Mexico. She plans to go to Africa for for birthday in November, although she is not yet sure which country. There, she plans to give back to African children by providing them with school supplies.
You can follow Gina’s travels at @__labellle.