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Sickle Cell Association to hold banquet

My organization, Suffolk Les Gemmes Inc., has partnered with The Sickle Cell Association for many years to help raise funds for the association’s mission, which is to provide comprehensive health education, counseling and testing services while striving to improve the quality of life for sickle cell clients and their families. Another main way that the Sickle Cell Association does this is through its kickoff fund-raising Sickle Cell Banquet. This 31st annual event will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 3 at Kings Fork High School on Kings Fork Highway.

The guest speaker for the banquet will be a National Regional Sickle Cell Awareness Pioneer, Florence Neal Smith from Richmond. At the present time she is a Florence Neal Cooper Smith Initiative Professorship chairman in Sickle Cell Research at the Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Guest soloist will be Gail Hinton-Copeland, music/choral instructor at John F. Kennedy Middle School, and two people with sickle cell disease will give testimonies on how they are living with it.

The initial theme of the Sickle Cell Association is “Break the Sickle Cycle” and for the past 15 years Elder Felton Whitfield, pastor of New Jerusalem COGIC in Portsmouth, has been the chairman of the Sickle Cell Advisory Committee. Other officers at the Suffolk office are Judy Anderson, executive director, and Faye Ledbetter, outreach health educator.

According to Whitfield, the United Way Association was once a big contributor to the Sickle Cell Association’s fund, but recently cut it from its program. Therefore, he is asking for more church, auxiliary, and organizational donations to help make up for those funds. The goal last year was $30,000, but the association fell short of that goal and raised about $22,000.

“In the meantime, the Sickle Cell Association is always seeking to go forward so the goal for 2006 is $31,000. In addition to the association’s mission, funds are raised to assist clients with their healthcare needs since there are many who are unable to obtain health insurance. Funds also help with utility bills when the victim has to be admitted to the hospital,” said Whitfield.

The association reported that sickle cell disease is inherited, affects the shape and function of red blood cells and is passed on from parent to child through messengers called genes. It is a very serious disease, because when a person has it, their red blood cells change from the usual round and soft shape to a twisted or sickle-like shape that stick together and block the flow of blood and oxygen, causing pain and other serious medical problems. It is good to know what tests you need to take to find out if you have the hemoglobin type or trait that could be passed off to an offspring or to know if you have the disease. Interracial marriages can also affect an offspring.

There is no treatment that is right for everyone, but bone marrow transplants can cure some patients and are very risky. Other cures are being studied.

To find out more about sickle cell disease employees at the Suffolk Sickle Cell Association office at 140 W. Washington St., Suite 8, are always available to go out to hold workshops to educate people in all areas.

The office number is 934-2347.

Tickets for the banquet can be purchased for $25 from the Sickle Cell Association at the above address and number, or by calling Lesma Cobb, chairman for Suffolk Les Gemmes Drive at 934-0469; or Whitfield at 397-8818.

Wall is a regular contributor to the Town Square page.