Couple battles for ‘Sickle Cell Warriors’

by Sonja J. Keith
Mike Kemp photo

Kimberly and Stacey Andrews of Conway are in a battle to help their sons they call their “Sickle Cell Warriors.”

“Two of my sons, Charles Smith (12) and Kayden Taylor (8) both have the full blown disease while I just have the trait,” said Kimberly, adding that the couple has a blended family of seven children.

Both boys understand their illness and the limits it places on their lives. “There is no cure,” Kimberly said. “They will have to take medicine the rest of their lives.”

A “crisis,” requiring hospitalization, can be triggered by a bruise that becomes infected by a fall or something as simple as a mosquito bite. “It can happen at any time and be due to anything,” Kimberly said, adding that there have been frequent hospital stays.

The boys have described the pain, which comes and go, as needles poking them everywhere, according to Kimberly. “As a parent, you feel everything that they feel,” she said. “They have gone through so much in the 8 and 12 years of their lives. They’ve endured a lot.”

Charles, a sixth-grader, lives in Arlington, Texas, with Stacey’s parents and is treated at a hospital in Mansfield, Texas. Kayden, a third-grader, is a frequent patient at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

Charles was tested at birth for Sickle Cell, with the diagnosis made about three weeks later. “I didn’t necessarily understand what it could do to him until the first hospital visit (when he was 3 months old),” Kimberly said. He was in extreme pain, crying and screaming.

“Three years ago, Kayden was admitted to Arkansas Children’s Hospital and was placed in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit for Acute Chest Syndrome, which is the No. 1 killer in those with this illness,” said Kimberly, adding that the crisis stemmed from a cold and described it as the “worst of the worst.”

“Even though doctors were telling me otherwise, I prayed and prayed my baby would pull through and he did just that,” Kimberly said. “God is good.”

The illness and hospital stays have made it difficult for the couple. “It’s hard to hold down a job,” Stacey said, adding that some employers are understanding while others really don’t care. “We’ve lost numerous jobs because of Kayden’s hospital visits,” he said.

“We’re not sad about it because we’re parents first,” Kimberly said. “We choose our children no matter what job it is.”

Stacey is an X-ray tech at Conway Regional Medical Center. Kimberly is in the Army National Guard and works in the environmental services department at Conway Regional Medical Center. Last year, she earned an associate degree in criminal justice with a minor in law enforcement after five years.

In addition to job security, Kimberly encourages businesses to help employees with health insurance that will cover Sickle Cell medicines. She said otherwise, many cannot cover the expense.

“It can create a lot of hardship,” Kimberly said. “It’s tough but we thank God for what we’ve been through so we can tell someone else our story and be a comfort to someone else.”

Stacey said he had to become educated about the disease when he and Kimberly started their relationship. “I never knew they go through as much pain as they do,” he said.

Both Stacey and Kimberly want to encourage others to become more educated about the disease, get tested for the trait and do what they can to help. “I believe that if the awareness for this disease is put out, a lot more people can be aware and get tested. Not only get tested but give plasma,” said Kimberly, adding that treatment sometimes requires transfusions.

Stacey said Sickle Cell isn’t focused on as much as other illnesses, like cancer. “Don’t overlook it,” he said. “It’s still a serious disease.”

Kimberly said there is a misconception that Sickle Cell only affects African Americans, but she points out that other nationalities can have the disorder, too. “It’s important for everybody to get tested not just because you’re African American.”

The couple has a strong foundation supporting them, including their parents and siblings. “We’re just a strong family that is deeply rooted in getting a better relationship with God so we have a better understanding of why things happen. We will never give up hope on finding a cure for this disease.”