Presentation aims to increase awareness of sickle cell anemia

Tuesday, May 3, 2005
Friday night at Bueker Middle School, area residents discussed ideas on educating the community and promoting awareness about the frequently painful disease, sickle cell anemia, as Ward 4 councilwoman, Lorna Alexander, an event organizer, looks on.

Friday night, representatives from two local agencies -- Positive Community Images and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) -- joined forces with an effort to educate and raise awareness about the debilitating disease, sickle cell anemia.

Marie Benham, a Marshall woman who is affiliated with both groups, along with a slew of other local agencies, said the topic of sickle cell anemia is of keen interest to her.

"This is one of the many ailments that African-Americans are more prone to get and this disease can be very devastating," she said. "This program means a great deal to me and I think that if people are aware of the ramifications of the disease and know all about the disease, we can wipe out sickle cell. And if we don't wipe it out, we can manage it and control it."

Marshall Ward 4 Councilwoman Lorna Alex-ander, who was a catalyst for the program, explained how the event originated and said education is the best way to prevent its spread.

"The NAACP and Positive Community Images is what helped bring this about," Alexander said. "The planning committee, when I said I'd like to do this program, they were right there for me. They've always been in my corner and I'm very appreciative of it. I'm hoping people become more educated about this disease and can pass this information on to someone else."

Alexander added that with the rising rate of inter-racial marriages and relationships, this information isn't and shouldn't be limited to the African-American community.

"This is one of those diseases that is quiet among the community," she said. "I don't know if people really know a lot about it. A lot of people think it's just in the black community, but it's in the minority community. And with all the mixed-[race] marriages, you don't know what's going to happen here.

It's very important that the information gets out there and that people get more educated and more knowledgeable about [sickle cell anemia] and hopefully it can be stopped."

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disease in which the red blood cells, normally disc-shaped, become crescent-shaped. As a result, they function abnormally and can cause small blood clots. These clots give rise to recurrent painful episodes called "sickle cell pain crises." The disease is caused by an abnormal type of hemoglobin (oxygen-carrying molecule) known as hemoglobin S and it develops in someone who has inherited the gene for hemoglobin S from both parents.

Pat Davis, founder and director of Positive Community Images, explained that, if people had a more thorough screening process when selecting a prospective mate, the disease could possibly be halted.

Virgie Simmerman, head nurse for the Marshall public schools, was also in attendance to support the respective groups as well as further her own education about sickle cell anemia, which, she honestly said, was lacking.

Simmerman said, "In just a few moments of listening to the presentation, I've already learned several things. In our school system as a school nurse, I've had several students with sickle cell anemia. At that time the only information I had available is what the mother had to say. In listening to what Mom had to say about her particular child that was very good, but it wasn't enough information. We have pamphlets and information that we're going to hand out to everyone and I'll be the first one taking mine back to the school district to share with the other school nurses that we have."

Alexander and the committee planning members arranged to have sickle cell specialist Sara Haslag, coordinator for the Sickle Cell Anemia Center at the University of Missouri-Columbia, speak at the presentation along with local resident, Lorna Miles, who has the disease.

Miles, who spoke with audience members upon the conclusion of the event, concurred with Haslag's assessment of promoting education about sickle cell anemia. "Without informing our community about sickle cell, they won't know anything about the disease and how to combat the disease. So they need to know what sickle cell is about and the symptoms ," she said. "We need to target where the population is going to be at. So the turnout tonight was good, but it needs to be better. But as long as the people that were here tonight take the information that they learned and spread it among others, that's what we need to do."

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