Florida A&M University’s Future Public Health Professionals hosted the HBCU Sickle Cell College Tour on Aug. 30 and 31 to increase awareness, educate and empower those who are unfamiliar with the inherited blood condition.
The tour aims to combat the issue most historically black colleges and universities campuses face regarding sickle cell stigmas and lack of knowledge about the disease.
Shamonica Wiggins and Jew-El Dardone, representatives of the tour said, “Having a well-informed campus will encourage students to learn more about the disorder and discover their trait status.”
The tour consisted of events including icebreakers, educational panel discussions, keynote speakers, performances and resources for students living with the disease or trait.
Subject matters covered in the education portion included who sickle cell effects, how it is inherited, the difference between the sickle cell trait and disease and further information about the disorder.
Amongst those in attendance on the tour was Jarren Smith, a junior public relations major at FAMU.
“Being a former athlete, I dealt with many complications due to this disease and it took a toll on me mentally, as well as, physically,” Smith said. “Dreams of being a ‘normal’ high school student were often abandoned as I had to trade school, basketball practice and games for days of being bedridden to cope with the pain from the disease.”
Fed up with the limitations and lack of discussion about sickle cell, Smith and his sister Jori Smith, who also has sickle cell, started a non-profit named The Sick of It Foundation. Their goal like HBCU Sickle Cell College is to advocate, educate and raise funds for sickle cell research.
When asked to describe the pain Smith said, “It’s like the whole limb is dead, but you still feel the pain. It’s kind of like you’re numb but at the same time you’re not… different from any other pain I’ve had.”
“The common cold can set it off,” Smith said. Experts suggest to those affected with sickle cell to be mindful of extreme weather conditions, hydration levels, and germs.
Smith recommended that everyone look into to getting scanned for sickle cell, especially those who are planning to have children. He also expressed that his hope for the Sick of It Foundation is that it will become one of the organizations that get the job done and funds the research that will find a cure.
Director of Student Health Services, Tanya Tatum, recommended that any student at FAMU that is dealing with a chronic illness, such as sickle cell register with the Center for Disabilities Access and Resources. CEDAR will be able to assist those students who need accommodations.
Tatum also said, “It’s important for people to remember it’s not a disease that is just amongst African-Americans. We’re certainly a population that has a higher incident of it, but it affects people of Mediterranean descent and Middle Eastern countries as well. It’s a much broader population than people think.”
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Sickle cell disease affects approximately 100,000 Americans.”
According to the CDCP, 1 in 12 African-Americans are born with the trait, and 1 in 400 African-Americans are affected by the disease. “It occurs when hemoglobin, a protein carried by the body’s red blood cells is abnormal, causing the red blood cells to take on a rigid ‘C’ or sickle shape.” Sickle cells can stick together and prevent blood flow, causing exceptionally painful episodes that sometimes require hospitalization.
For more information about the Sick of It Foundation or sickle cell, you can visit imsickofit.org and the cdc.gov. website.