By Stephanie R. Jones
The day before he was to appear as the poster child of the year for the Mississippi Sickle Cell Foundation, Derrick James spent the day at a hospital being treated for a pain crisis, an all too common occurrence for children and adults who suffer from the condition.
But 9-year-old Derrick, known as DJay, was well enough to tell his young life’s story for the foundation’s annual gala Aug. 26, at the Mississippi Agriculture Museum. “Thank you for choosing me poster child of the year,” Derrick said. “I will continue to spread the word about sickle cell.” His mother LaShaunda Davenport said the family found out through mandatory testing that Derrick had sickle cell when he was 3 months old. She said her son has experienced many crises, hospitalizations and blood transfusions over the years.
“He’s gone through a lot but he still remains a happy active child,” she said. Davenport said the family works closely with Mississippi Blood Services to encourage blood donations because children with sickle cell require them. “We do a lot of work with Mississippi Blood Services. We do a lot with Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital,” Davenport said. Corey Bradford, former NFL and Jackson State University wide receiver, was the keynote speaker. Bradford said he first learned about sickle cell when his brother-in-law, Major O’Neal, succumbed to the disease. “It took months and months to figure out what was going on,” Bradford said. “He had all this pain.”
After his brother-in-law’s death, Bradford decided to join efforts to raise awareness about the disease. His niece La’Shon O’Neal, who introduced him at the gala, started the organization Major Strides 4 Sickle Cell. Dr. Seve Majumdar, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist, said University of Mississippi Medical Center has a comprehensive program that caters to a large sickle cell population. “We do not only clinical care, but we also do research and are involved with multi-center trials to improve outcomes regarding the condition,” said Majumdar, whose wife Shiparna Majumdar, also practices pediatrics. Sickle cell is a genetic condition, he said, so the number of cases is going to be fixed. “So we see a steady number of patients even though patients are now living longer due to better treatment,” Majumdar said. “But still there is still a risk for early death from sickle cell. Yet there are a lot of medications coming down the pipeline for potentially treating sickle cell disease,” he said. He added that the awareness brought about from events such as the foundation’s 20th annual gala are important.
“This is critical to the care of sickle cell. It is so, so important to spread the message and make more people aware because if you think about it, one in 13 African Americans have the sickle cell gene. People need to be aware of that so more money can go not only into clinical care but research for treatments and hopefully cures,” he said. Tyrah Hickman, a registered nurse, spoke about her work with the UMMC Sickle Cell Day Clinic, which opened in May. “I am a product of the system. I am a survivor,” said Hickman who herself has sickle cell disease. She said of the eight professionals in at the clinic, “We’re a team. We work together to serve our community.”
Stephanie R. Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.