Last Saturday, September 1, a crowd well over 200 participated in the Sickle Cell Disease Association of EscaRosa’s 5K Walk. Participants began their trek at the Association’s downtown headquarters, located on DeVilliers Street, trudged to the end of Palafox Street and returned back to headquarters.
Leslie Hunter-Huff, Outreach Coordinator for the association, said the event was done to draw awareness to the issue.
“The purpose of the Walk-a-Thon was to bring awareness to our community that there are people in our community living with Sickle Cell Disease,” Hunter-Huff said. “It was also a fundraising event.”
Hunter-Huff says the non-profit is not governmentally funded; they rely on the community for financial support.
“[At birth] anyone born before 1989 wasn’t tested for Sickle Cell,” Hunter-Huff said. So there are a lot of child-bearing people having children not knowing if Sickle Cell is in their family.”
Hunter-Huff says individuals with Sickle Cell disease suffer from acute pain and are hospitalized several times throughout their life.
“Sickle Cell is the result of [abnormally-shaped] red blood cells that block oxygen,” Hunter-Huff said.
When oxygen is cut off from any part of the body, damage occurs. Aside from chronic pain, many Sickle Cell patients lose their gall bladder, spleen and vision. The disease also puts these individuals at an increased risk of infection because the disease jeopardizes their immune system.
Tekisha Russell, 28, was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease as an infant. She says the condition weighed down her childhood.
“I wasn’t able to play as much as the ‘normal’ kids … I wasn’t even able to swim. If I got into a pool, I would end up in the hospital.”
Because of a swimming pool’s cool temperature, blood vessels become constricted. Still, Russell says she attempted swimming many times. And sadly, she would almost always have to seek medical treatment after those dips.
“I want to say 90 percent of the time I ended up in the hospital,” she said.
Outside of inconveniencing recreational activities during childhood, Russell says the disease also impacted her academics.
“I missed a lot of school,” Russell said adding that she would sometimes miss weeks due to the illness.
“I ended up having to graduate a year later because of [the disease].” Russell said. “But, I graduated.”
And Russell not only agrees with Hunter-Huff about the pain, she can attest to it.
“It’s a different type of pain,” Russell said. “Having kids is nothing compared to this pain,” added the mother of two.
Russell says when she would have a crisis episode as a child her grandmother would try to nurse her. But due to the acute pain, Russell says her grandmother would eventually take her to the hospital for treatment.
“Most of the time I would end up having to have a blood transfusion,” Russell said. She says she has had well over 20 blood transfusions throughout her life.
To stay healthy, Russell says she takes her medicine, exercises and keeps a healthy diet.
She says she copes by relying on her faith and praying. Also, she says she doesn’t focus on the fact that she has the disease. Instead, she says she combats her disease with positive affirmations.
“I say that I am healed.”