One hundred years ago, Chicago physician Dr. James Herrick reported anemia characterized by “peculiar elongated and sickle shaped” red blood cells in Walter Clement Noel, “an intelligent negro of 20,” who had left Grenada to study dentistry at the Chicago College of Dental Surgery. It was a discovery that changed the medical landscape—and that of African descendants in particular.
Sickle cell disease is a hereditary blood disorder that affects the red blood cells. The abnormal hemoglobin in these cells can cause them to make a crescent shape that can block small blood vessels. The blockage decreases the amount of blood reaching tissue, which causes painful complications and even death.
The disease affects millions of people worldwide, particularly families from Africa, South and Central America, the Caribbean, Mediterranean countries, India and Saudi Arabia.
On Sept. 18, hundreds of Washington area residents—including a contingent of Howard University students—will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of sickle cell with the Stomp Out Sickle Cell Disease Walk/Run at Freedom Plaza on Pennsylvania Avenue between 13th and 14th streets in northwest Washington, D.C.
The 5-kilometer walk is to raise funds and awareness for the painful, life-threatening disease that affects about 72,000 people – mostly Black—in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Health, the disease occurs in about 1 in every 500 African-American births and 1 in every 1,000 to 1,400 Hispanic-American births. About 2 million Americans, or 1 in 12 African Americans, carry the sickle cell trait.
“Thousands of people are affected by this disease every day,” said Barbra Harrison, a genetics counselor, assistant professor in the Howard University College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics and director of community outreach and education for the Howard University Center for Sickle Cell Disease, who urged all residents to support those affected by the disease.
“This walk is one of the very few efforts in the Washington, D.C., area to show support to those impacted by it. Plus, it’s a lot of fun,” she added.
Washington-area residents are invited to participate in this event from 8 a.m. to noon, or to sponsor Howard University student walkers/runners for $10. Registration is available online at www.soswalk.org or at the site on the day of the event. Participants can sign up individually or as a group. Free T-shirts will be available for participants while supplies last.
There will be stations set up by local hospitals to give out information about the disease and how those affected can utilize area services for themselves or their children.
And Jeff Henderson, celebrity author and star of the Food Network program, “The Chef Jeff Project,” will be in attendance to show support and to promote the cause.
Coordinators for this event include the Children’s National Medical Center, Center for Cancer and Blood Disorder, Georgetown University Hospital’s Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, Faces of Our Children Inc., Howard University, National Institutes of Health and Sickle Cell Association of the National Capital Area Inc.
For more information on the Stomp Out Sickle Cell Disease Walk, please visit www.soswalk.org or call 202.865.4443.