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Teen with sickle cell anemia shares experiences with disease

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Posted: Monday, January 24, 2011 12:00 pm

By Colleen Flaherty

Killeen Daily Herald

In many ways, Jazmine Mike is like any other Ellison High School senior. She studies hard, works after school and loves to go shopping.

But since she was born, Jazmine, 18, has struggled with sickle cell disease. It's caused her to have three strokes and require monthly blood transfusions.

"Some people understand sickle cell, and some people ask questions about it," Jazmine said, her speech still somewhat slurred from one of her strokes. "I just try to stay focused and study extra hard."

Jazmine has been the poster child for the nonprofit Central Texas Sickle Cell Anemia Association's past three annual fundraisers.

She'll reprise that role from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, during the all-volunteer association's 28th annual Sickle Cell Telethon, at The Shilo Inn in Killeen. Volunteers will also answer phones and offer musical and other entertainment at the Fox 44 studio in Waco. Activities at both locations will be aired on the KWKT-TV Fox 44 network, channel 14 in Killeen.

The Rev. Gene Carter, the association's executive director, called Jazmine an advocate and role model for those struggling with the disease.

"She shares with others what sickle cell is like to have," he said. "She's such a dedicated person, to be so young, and having suffered so much with the disease."

Jazmine's involvement with the association is so crucial because sickle cell disease is misunderstood, Carter said. Some people think it's contagious or affects a person's intellectual ability, neither of which is true.

Money raised during the telethon will help educate the public and those dealing with sickle cell about the disease. It will also help some of the 594 people in eight Central Texas counties living with sickle cell disease to afford prescription treatments, Carter said.

"Our goal is $30,000," he said. "We could get one person to give us $30,000, or 30,000 people to give us $1."

About sickle cell anemia

According to information from the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, Inc., sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder that affects red blood cells. People with sickle cell disease have red blood cells that become hard and pointed, or sickle-shaped, instead of soft and round. Sickle cells can block small blood vessels, leading to tissue damage and strokes. Sickle cells also cause anemia, pain and many other problems.

There is currently no universal cure for sickle cell disease, of which there are several variations, including sickle cell anemia and sickle cell thalassemia. The average life expectancy of someone with sickle cell disease is about 40.

Treatment of complications often includes antibiotics, pain management, intravenous fluids, blood transfusion and surgery.

The national association estimates that more than 70,000 Americans have sickle cell disease. About 1,000 babies are born with the disease each year in the United States.

The disease originated in places where malaria poses serious threats to the health of the population, including West and Central Africa.

According to information from Harvard Medical School, the sickle cell mutation makes trait-holders less vulnerable to dying of malaria. While sickle cell disease is commonly associated with blacks, those with Mediterranean some Middle East or Asian heritages can carry the trait.

Jazmine's mom, Jackie Bates, said she pays about $500 each month for Jazmine's treatments, to make up for what Medicaid doesn't cover. It's hard for a single mom, she said, but she's proud of her daughter, who gets good grades, competes in the Special Olympics, and can be a voice for those suffering with sickle cell disease.

"It gives her the motivation and self-esteem to talk about her illness with others, so they can understand her before they judge her," she said.

For more information on the Central Texas Sickle Cell Anemia Association, call (254) 752-3441.

The telethon will air live, from noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday on KWKT-TV Fox 44.

Contact Colleen Flaherty at colleenf@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.

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