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.