Sickle cell support group raises awareness, gives back to local doctors

By Claire Girman

A makeshift tent on the corner of Rosedale and Evans streets was filled with signs and memorabilia last weekend about people from Fort Worth who died from sickle cell anemia complications.
The bed of a nearby pickup truck held water bottles, snacks and event decorations. About 15 people, ranging in age six to 88 huddled around the tent, mingling and ensuring the wind wouldn’t ruin their setup.
Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disease that affects the development and erosion of red blood cells. In this country, it primarily affects African-Americans and the small crowd at Saturday morning’s Sicklers for Sicklers event reflected this.
It also included a TCU senior nursing student who said she wants more people to learn about the disease that’s affecting many people in Fort Worth.
“There’s a need for better medical understanding of the disease,” McKellar said.
“People battling sickle cell can experience a pain that medical professionals can’t always see. Just because a patient doesn’t have apparent hemorrhaging or a broken arm, doesn’t mean they aren’t mentally or emotionally in pain.”
The Tyler native is an intern at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth in the Intensive Care Unit. She said she learned about sickle cell in early September while attending a symposium.
“Midway through the lecture, a woman in the back of the room stood up and shared her story of how she’s battled sickle cell for more than 50 years,” McKellar said. “The woman’s name was Carol Strickland.”
McKellar said she saw Strickland handing out fliers after the symposium for an advocacy group she leads, Sicklers for Sicklers. Strickland was hosting a prayer walk to acknowledge people battling sickle cell in the Fort Worth community.
“Since 1979, Sicklers for Sicklers had always done banquets, food drives, toy drives and other events. Then something changed and I saw a greater need here in Fort Worth. It prompted me to want to do something else,” Strickland said. “So I created this walk.”
McKellar said by participating in the walk, she knew she was representing more than a select group of people battling the disease in her community. She said she knew she was bringing awareness to the deeper complications of sickle cell anemia.
Strickland said the goal of her organization’s events, including the walk, is to raise $10,000 to give back to doctors and nurses in the area who care for sickle cell patients.
She said she stays in contact with 30 people in the community who are suffering from the disease. She said she will often get calls from them in the middle of the night.
“It’s amazing the healing power that comes with just being present for someone who is struggling,” Strickland said. “Often what helps another person is having someone present who has endured their same struggles and can be there to help carry the burden.”
Strickland said this is what Sicklers for Sicklers is all about.
“Every person you touch is a ministry and they’re looking for someone else to give them hope,” Strickland said. “So I always say, never take what you do for granted.”

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