Her mother also had the disease, and her father carried the trait. Her mom was in and out of the hospital a lot, but she did the best she could to care for Patricia and teach her about her illness.
When Patricia was 5 years old, her mother went into the hospital and didn’t come back.
“I just remember her not coming home, and my dad telling me she had passed away,” she said. “That was one of the hardest things.”
Growing up in the Caribbean, Patricia said sickle cell was common. Many of her peers had it, and a couple of her classmates passed away from sickle cell in high school.
“It was kind of scary, because it was always in the back of my mind: Was I going to be next?” she said. “It was like this dark cloud plaguing you. But at the same time, I think I’ve always had the mentality that I wanted to just beat it, by any means necessary.”
Not letting her disease get the best of her was the driving force behind her interest in researching and reading everything she could about sickle cell. When she got older and came to the United States, it pushed her to get involved with sickle cell groups, sharing her story and the knowledge she had gained.
Though she faced her fair share of complications growing up, the effects of her sickle cell were relatively mild in her early years. Things changed in her early 30s when she started getting sick more often. The constant hospitalizations became routine for Patricia and her daughter.
“Chirstin would sometimes have to get out of bed in the middle of the night, pack up and ride with me to the emergency room,” Patricia said. “Even though she was little, she often helped me get myself together for the trip to the hospital.”
Each time her hemoglobin levels dropped, Patricia had to receive another blood transfusion.
“When I would get sick, I would get really sick,” she said. “I’ve had so many blood transfusions, I can’t even remember how many.”
Patricia was able to use those experiences to help her educate her daughter and help her better mentor the young sickle cell patients she worked with in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System.
“It’s different when you have someone who can relate to what you’re going through,” she said. “When I tell the kids, ‘I feel your pain,’ that’s not just a figure of speech. It’s literal.”
That understanding and her first-hand experience with blood transfusions lead Patricia to host blood drives at the school where she worked. She wanted people who were donating to see the face of someone who had been impacted by blood donations just like theirs, to make it even more real.
“And I wanted our kids to see at that young age how important things like blood drives are,” she said. “That they’re never too young to have an impact. Even though they can’t give, they can encourage their parents and teachers to give. If we catch them at that early age, it teaches them how to be selfless.”
Patricia and Chirstin are fierce sickle cell advocates, often attending and volunteering at sickle cell events, as well as spreading awareness for the disease in person and on social media.
“Chirstin has been my greatest accomplishment,” Patricia said. “From the moment she was born, she was my ultimate motivation to fight to survive and be the best me I could be. She saved my life.”