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YOUNGSTOWN Educating the public about sickle cell



Published: Mon, July 22, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The mayor informed Stephen Morris that July is proclaimed 'Sickle Cell Month' in Youngstown in honor of his brother.

By KATIE-NELL SCANLON

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The life of Joseph D. Morris ended at 3 p.m. Dec. 26, 2000.

After a lifelong struggle against a terminal illness, Morris battled mounting complications and could not win.

The killer was sickle cell anemia. The Sickle Cell Disease Association of America Web site says it is estimated that more than 2.5 million Americans have the trait, and more than 70,000 have the disease. There is no cure.

Sickle cell is an inherited, genetic blood disease that occurs most often in infants whose parents carry the sickle cell trait.

Morris, a Youngstown resident, was diagnosed with the disease shortly after his birth July 13, 1974. The illness made it difficult for him to participate in any sort of physical activity growing up. The pain to his arms and legs could strike at any time, sometimes requiring hospitalization.

Campaign for awareness

Morris' older brother Stephen said most people have never heard of the disease or know anything about it. Stephen Morris wants to change that.

His first step was to contact the National Sickle Cell Association in Cleveland shortly after his brother's death. He received information and examined medical records.

"I studied anything about the disease I could get my hands on," he said.

Through extensive research and documentation, he submitted a 90-page proclamation in May to Mayor George M. McKelvey regarding sickle cell.

On June 26, McKelvey informed Morris that July 2002 was proclaimed "Sickle Cell Month" in honor of his brother.

"My objective is to increase community awareness," Morris said. "I would like to see schools hand out information during sickle cell month or possibly have guest speakers come in to answer questions about the disease."

He hopes that increased education will push those who are suffering to receive counseling and that his efforts will spark discussion about the disease and its detrimental effects.

Speaking engagement

A former Youngstown resident, Morris is also promoting education about the disease from his home in Aurora, Ill. He spoke about sickle cell anemia at the Provena Mercy Center on July 10 at a Toastmasters International meeting. He hopes to speak at area schools during September, which is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month.

"Our desire is in urging all citizens to be aware of the impact of this disease and the impact it has on so many of our citizens," McKelvey said. "Hopefully by increasing awareness, we can increase the screening process for infants and counseling for those suffering."

A person can carry the sickle cell trait and not have the disease, but they are at a higher risk for producing a child with the disease. The disease is a result of faulty hemoglobin -- the component in the blood responsible for delivering oxygen from the lungs to tissues throughout the body. When the body's red blood cells release the oxygen, the cells change shape. Over time, the cells become rigid and crescent-shaped, clogging arteries and prohibiting oxygen flow to tissue and organs.

The disease causes severe damage to the body inducing lung tissue damage, pain episodes and strokes. The misshapen sickle cells cause damage to organs including the spleen, kidneys and liver, by blocking blood flow.

Although there is no universal cure for the disease, treatment is available for reducing severe pain, acute chest syndrome and the need for blood transfusions.

kscanlon@vindy.com




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