Lying in a hospital bed, Willie Mae Tinsley’s doctors told her she wouldn’t live to see the next day.

“Sometimes when you have a blood transfusion, they can’t find a perfect match of blood,” said Tinsley, who was 25 at the time. Tinsley has sickle cell anemia, a genetic disorder that causes the body to make abnormally-shaped red blood cells that can block blood flow, causing pain and potentially organ damage.

Tinsley lived to see many more days. Now, the 56-year-old Killeen resident volunteers with the Central Texas Sickle Cell Anemia Association, which held a telethon Sunday on Fox 44.

Darwin “Babysitter” Wyatt, an afternoon radio personality, has hosted every telethon since the nonprofit held its first one 30 years ago.

“I wanted to make a different and the way to make a difference is to be heard,” Wyatt said.

The telethon raised $11,986, which will support the nonprofit throughout the year.

Ruby Graham, director for the Killeen chapter of the nonprofit, said those funds will go toward providing education about the disease as well as services to those affected by it.

Her daughter, Fina Alexander, 47, also has the disease. Graham said growing up with a child who has the disease was terrible. It was painful for her to see Alexander suffer and feel like there was nothing she could do to make it better.

“The hardest thing was not knowing when she was going to get sick or what was going to happen,” Graham said. “She could be out playing with the kids in the street one minute and the next minute she’s screaming and crying.”

Thinking back to her life growing up, Tinsley said it’s wonderful that she doesn’t feel the pain from the disease as often as she used to.

“It was rough growing up with it. I can’t even describe the pain. I can’t remember going a whole week without being sick,” she said. “There’s no cure for it.”

Contact Sarah Rafique at or (254) 501-7549. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.

I'm the education reporter at the Killeen Daily Herald. Follow me on Twitter at

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