Monday, November 25, 2013

A Modern-Day Superwoman Helps Her Son Fight Sickle Cell Disease

Tamiko Parker-McKenzie
In the midst of your busy day, your busy year, your busy life, sometimes you have to stop and pay attention to another person's heart. You have to find a way to absorb someone else's joy and occasionally their pain so that you can learn and they can lean.You have to give them something they may need in that moment and provide a sign that "the village" is down on bended knee collectively praying, supporting and watching them rise to challenges you doubt you could ever withstand. 

In my eyes, that someone is a modern-day Superwoman. I already sensed that 40-year-old Tamiko Parker-McKenzie, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, had super powers but I wasn't quite sure. Once or twice I could have sworn I saw the seam of her red cape caught in her car door. She never acknowledged it, she simply smiled that beautiful smile, waved and sped off to conquer whatever stood in her way that day. The Superwoman moniker became real to me when I slowed down long enough to listen to her story, feel her pain and share her anticipation for brighter days ahead for her oldest son, five-year-old Keith Jr., known as KJ, a super hero in his own right with dimples deep enough to get lost in.  
Five-Year-Old Superhero, KJ McKenzie

Though she admits she's scared and occasionally fights back tears when she talks about KJ, Tamiko uses her super powers and unbelievable strength to help KJ fight sickle cell anemia, a disease he was diagnosed with at birth. I can't help but think to myself, if KJ only knew. If this sweet little boy had any idea how his mommy and daddy, Keith Sr., are helping him fight sickle cell, he would be so impressed with his parents. 

For the first five years of his life, KJ was on a daily liquid penicillin regime, a course of action that proved to be effective as he didn’t exhibit any physical signs of the disease. KJ’s sickle cell began to manifest a few months before his fifth birthday. Doctors informed Tamiko and her husband Keith, Wayne State University's linebackers football coach who spent eight years in the National Football League as a defensive end, that their son was at risk of suffering strokes due to the lack of blood flow in his brain. To prevent him from suffering unimaginable pain, KJ began a series of blood transfusions. Although KJ isn’t fond of getting poked regularly with needles, he has found a coping mechanism by channeling his inner ‘superhero.’ He finds comfort in using his super powers to battle this debilitating disease. Someday when he is much older and has beaten the disease, he will realize that his mom tied her cape around her neck every single day and made sure he had the best medical team in the state of Michigan to help transform him from a little boy with a big illness to a young man that can leap tall buildings in a single bound. 

Kalen, Karson and Big Brother, KJ
Sickle cell anemia is the most common form of sickle cell disease (SCD). SCD is a serious disorder in which the body makes sickle-shaped red blood cells. "Sickle-shaped" means that the red blood cells are shaped like a crescent. They tend to block blood flow in the blood vessels of the limbs and organs which can cause pain and organ damage. Tissue that does not receive normal blood flow eventually becomes damaged. This is what causes the complications of sickle cell disease. While the disease is most common among African Americans, it also occurs in people of Hispanic, Indian, Caribbean, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and South Asian descent.  One in 500 African-American children have the disease. In Hispanics, that number is one in 36,000.  One in every twelve African-Americans carry the trait, which itself is harmless, but when two trait carriers like Tamiko and Keith marry and have a child, their chances of having a baby with the full blown disease increase dramatically to one in four. Naturally, Tamiko and Keith were devastated by KJ's diagnosis. 

The McKenzie Family
Superwoman Tamiko remains strong and incredibly courageous as she helps KJ fight sickle cell. She is on a mission to advocate for a cure and educate everyone who will listen about the devastating effects of the disease. She does countless interviews to create greater awareness about sickle cell among all people and she helps raise funds for research and prevention. On Saturday, November 23, Tamiko participated in the Detroit-area St. Jude's Give Thanks. Walk to raise money for St. Jude's Hospital where researchers work day and night to help find a cure. She will continue to do everything within her power to make sure her son beats this disease and lives a long, full life. "Keith and I were inspired by the many stories of successful bone marrow transplants used to cure sickle cell disease. Three years ago we had the surprise of our lives when we learned we were pregnant with twins. Concerned that the twins could also have the disease, they were tested in utero and they were found to be sickle cell free. And, the news just gets better from here, KJs’s twin brothers, Kalen & Karson are a perfect bone marrow match for their big brother," says Tamiko. 

The Bravest Little Superhero in the World
And so the journey to cure KJ begins. His treatment plan consists of ten days of chemotherapy, which begins Tuesday, November 26, followed by a stem cells transplant and six weeks or more of hospitalization. The first 100 days after discharge will be followed by once to twice weekly clinic appointments. They will become less frequent as he recovers. 

As she prepares for long days and nights in the hospital by her son's side, Tamiko recognizes that there are so many people praying for her little superhero. For this and the family's many blessings, she and her husband give thanks. They vow to keep fighting, supporting others who are going through what their family is going through, and raising money and awareness in the fight against sickle cell disease. 

To see a recent My Fox Detroit news story on KJ, click here.

How Can You Help KJ and the McKenzie Family?

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for taking the time to read about this incredible family. People from all over the country have asked how they can help the McKenzie family as KJ begins this journey. Here are a few ideas:

1) Visit the McKenzie family GoFundMe page and give as much as you can to help them with medical expenses.

2) Make a donation to St. Jude's in the McKenzie family name: Tamiko McKenzie St. Jude's Fundraising Page

3) You could be a possible match for a patient in need of a bone marrow transplant. Learn more about how you can become a donor and the steps of the donation process by visiting: Be The Match.

4) Send the McKenzie family cards, letters, gas cards, Target or Costco cards.  Most of all, send your prayers! 
Mail can be sent to: 
KJ McKenzie & Family 
35560 Grand River #227
Farmington Hills, MI 48335-3120

5) Learn more about sickle cell disease and how it affects millions of families throughout the world by visiting the Sickle Cell Disease Association of AmericaKnowledge is Power!

6) Leave a comment below for Tamiko and Keith. I'm pretty sure your prayers, words of love and support, and acts of kindness will help them get through long days and nights in the hospital with KJ.

7) During this season of Thanksgiving, be eternally grateful for your health and the health of your loved ones. HUG someone and tell them you LOVE them today.




Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Women Making Power Moves

Anyone who knows me knows that I am unapologetically Pro-Woman all day, every day. I love to see women succeed and I pay close attention to smart, driven, authentic women who are climbing to the highest heights or silently making moves in the background to advance a cause or help others. I especially admire those who aren't tearing other women down as they ascend. I tell anyone who will listen that I desperately loathe reality television shows that cast women in a negative light. It makes me so angry that women, young and old, agree to put their shallow, meaningless lives on display, showing the ugliest side of themselves for money and fleeting fame. How can they disregard the fact that young girls are watching their every move and taking plays from their playbook on how to dress, how to manipulate men and how to FIGHT other women?

Thankfully, all young girls aren't that impressionable and many have REAL women to pattern their lives after---women who respect themselves and others. And I am praying for the proverbial winds of change to shift the American consciousness away from the garbage we call entertainment, to real television that celebrates and values a woman's character, her talents, and her heart.

So, let me spend a minute recognizing just a few women who matter to me. Some I know personally, some I don't. But I am watching, listening and learning as they demonstrate how they live their lives with class, honor and decorum. I respect the way they are advancing their careers with a sense of pride and purpose, showing other women how it should be done. 
Angela Burt-Murray is a woman constantly making power moves! The former editor-in-chief of Essence magazine is co-host of Exhalethe provocative new talk series on the Aspire Network. Exhale premieres this Thursday, June 27 at 8pm ET. This superwoman also co-founded CocoaFab, a fast-paced celebrity news and style site covering urban pop culture. I admire Angela's leadership and ingenuity in media and now, television. And her wonderful spirit is well... check her out starting this week on Exhale and see for yourself why she's on my list of powerful women!

Best known for her work as an advocate for HIV/AIDS & women’s health Cookie Johnson has stepped out of her “retirement” from being a busy full-time wife and mother, to devote herself to instilling confidence in modern women of various shapes and sizes through her premium denim line, Cj by Cookie Johnson. Devoted to empowering women, Cookie’s efforts now reach beyond the philanthropic endeavors she and her husband, iconic basketball star Earvin “Magic” Johnson are known for. 

I adore Cookie. As someone who has written speeches for her on the subject of HIV awareness and female entrepreneurship, I respect that for more than 20 years, she has been on the front lines fighting for more HIV/AIDS testing and advocacy, and has developed her own powerful brand. And have I mentioned that her jeans look fabulous on all women? My hat is off to the beautiful, intelligent, down-to-earth Cookie Johnson! 

Nischelle Turner is an entertainment correspondent for CNN and HLN's Showbiz Tonight. She's smart, talented and having worked as a sideline reporter for FOX's Sunday NFL broadcasts, she's giving her male counterparts a run for their money in the sports IQ department. We see you, Nischelle! Follow Nischelle on Twitter: @nischelleturner.
Speaking of powerful women, are you aware of the impact Padmasree Warrior has had on Cisco as the company's Chief Technology & Strategy Officer? She commands attention at every level and is a formidable leader. Listed #57 on Forbes Power Women list this year, Padmasree is charged with aligning technology development and corporate strategy to enable Cisco to anticipate, shape and lead major market transitions.

Sadira Furlow is one of my favorite women on the planet and a real force to be reckoned with in the advertising world. She is the senior director of business development for Chicago-based commonground Marketing Agency where she spends her days leading new business, solving problems, inspiring cross agency collaboration and consulting…all while remembering to have fun! Love this smart, talented, classy lady!

South African-born actress, Charlize Theron is beautiful and memorable by all standards. I just love her poise and confidence. In 2007, she founded the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) in an effort to support African youth in the fight against HIV/AIDS. In addition to being a philanthropist and social activist, she has kicked ass in countless movie roles and she's often the classiest woman in the room at celebrity "see and be seen" functions. And her haircut? What?!? Respect due. 

Dr. Bernadette Sanchez is an associate professor in DePaul University's Department of Psychology. This spirited professor's major areas of interest include community psychology, positive youth development, youth mentoring, race, ethnicity, and culture, academic achievement and education. She is kind, honest and one of the smartest women I know. Definitely a rising star in the world of academia. Keep an eye on this dynamic woman!

One of my all-time favorites, Robin Roberts is co-anchor of ABC's Good Morning America. She is honest and what you see is what you get on and off camera. I featured her in my new book, Dare To Be Extraordinary, A Collection of Positive Life Lessons from African American Fathers. In her chapter, I wrote: "Robin brings joy, honesty, and news to millions of loyal Good Morning America viewers each day. When she laughs, we laugh. When she cries, we cry. Roberts has an uncanny way of making us feel her joy and her pain, and her extraordinary brand of journalism can’t be taught in school or learned in a newsroom. Off camera, she is just as humble and authentic as she is on camera. People are naturally drawn to her..."

I stand by these words. Recently, she has survived health battles and the loss of some of the people closest to her and she's still standing and giving of herself each and every day. It doesn't get much more real than this.

Eva Longoria is a charismatic, no-nonsense Mexican-American actress who's passionate about politics, education and the world in which we live. She has made enough money in her lifetime to quietly continue to hone her craft and live a nice Hollywood lifestyle. Instead, she strives to do more. In 2012, Eva co-chaired of President Barack Obama's re-election committee and campaigned for the President. She is also a restauranteur and philanthropist, and did I mention that she earned her master's degree in Chicano Studies from California State University, Northridge in May 2013? Yep, Eva is a real powerhouse and I salute her. 
Susan Blumberg-Kason is an author, columnist and blogger who writes fascinating prose and articles about her experiences living in Hong Kong and about Jews in WWI China. I love that she writes beautifully about a part of the world and a culture she is deeply passionate about. Susan, who's upcoming book, Good Chinese Wife will be published by Sourcebooks in 2014, is someone I pay close attention to because she is most definitely paving the way for her own success... and I'm taking notes. Check out Susan's website
Gloria Jean Watkins, better known by her pen name, bell hooks, is a woman who's writing speaks to my soul. Through her writing, bell hooks forces her readers to think deeply about love, sexuality, race, class and gender.  And I've loved her work for probably two decades now. In her writing, she has focused on the interconnectivity of race, capitalism, and gender and what she describes as their ability to produce and perpetuate systems of oppression and class domination. bell hooks has published over thirty books and numerous scholarly and mainstream articles, appeared in several documentary films and participated in various public lectures. If you are ever asked the name of my favorite writer and social critic of all times and you don't answer "bell hooks," shame on you because she is damn near an intellectual Goddess in my eyes. 

Be Inspired,