Benecia Bishop, a sickle cell patient at the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, hopes to one day help kids just like her. The 14-year-old from Jonesboro, Ga., has had a lot of practice—her younger sister and brother also have the disease.
“She’s a strong little girl,” said her mother, Tamika. “She’s gone through a lot, and she still supports her brother and sister.”
Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder in which red blood cells, that are typically round, are shaped like crescents, or sickles. The sickle shape makes it difficult for the cells to carry oxygen throughout the body. The cells often get stuck and block blood flow, causing a sickle cell pain crisis.
The disease has been hardest on Benecia. She has suffered seven strokes and must have a blood transfusion every other week to keep healthy red blood cells in her body. In an attempt to reduce pain and the likelihood of stroke, Benecia also had her spleen removed and recently had surgery to replace blood vessels in her skull.
Her sister, Taquoyah, has her own battles against sickle cell disease. Severe pain crises made it necessary for doctors to remove her spleen at age 2. Today, the 13-year-old, who dreams of becoming a fashion designer, keeps her pain under control with monthly blood transfusions.
“She’s really into fashion,” Tamika said. “She’s always making her own dress designs.”
Bennie, Tamika’s youngest child, is an energetic 10-year-old who takes his treatments in stride. His struggle with sickle cell disease began early—he had a stroke at just 3 months old. Doctors are now able to manage his disease with monthly blood transfusions, so Bennie can focus on being a kid.
“He loves to take characters from books and make up his own stories,” Tamika said. “He’s a very active child. He’s into whatever comes his way.”
Even though the disease affects each one of her children differently, Tamika says battling sickle cell is a team effort. The children often have their blood transfusions at the same time at Children’s at Hughes Spalding.
“They are always there for each other,” Tamika said. “The support system is great. They help each other so much.”