September is Sickle Cell Anemia Month. During this time the Valerie Fund Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, located at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey (CHoNJ) at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center hopes to call attention to this condition by spotlighting a courageous young patient who continues to persevere in school and life despite medical setbacks.
Newark resident Makkah Kennedy was only one month old when she experienced her first pain crisis and was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia. Makkah suffers from a severe form of the disease and as she grew, she generally had three or four admittances to the hospital each month, which began to affect her ability to keep up with school.
Then, a year ago, Makkah began a new treatment at the Valerie Fund Center, using hydroxyurea, which is prescribed for patients with moderate-to-severe sickle cell disease to help reduce the frequency of pain episodes and acute chest syndrome. The medication has greatly reduced her hospitalizations to fewer than three or four in a full year.
Through all her medical ups and downs, Makkah has maintained a very positive attitude.
“This little person who we are so blessed to have always continues to persevere,” says her mother, Lathrsha Kennedy. “She has suffered from the worst, most severe pain possible, but it never disables her. Makkah has always had a strong faith and that she keeps going.”
The medical team at the Valerie Fund Center admires Makkah’s perseverance as much as her family does.
“Makkah is a joy and an inspiration,” says Peri Kamalakar, MD, Pediatric Hematologist /Oncologist and Medical Director of The Valerie Fund Children’s s at all three sites of Barnabas Health system. ”She is a good student with an excellent attitude and has excelled over the past few years despite her complications with sickle cell disease. Her parents are very involved in her life and she travels with her school on trips and enjoys helping others.”
Lathrsha Kennedy and her husband, Darshawn, have four children, and Makkah is a twin. Now a student at North Star Academy Charter School of Newark, Makkah enjoys singing, cooking, especially pancakes, watching American Idol and spending time with her cousins and siblings. In particular her older sister, Amora, helps her to cope with her condition and express her concerns.
When she has a painful day, Makkah says that she takes deep breaths and prays for help to get through the difficult times.
Her advice to children with sickle cell disease is to never stop trying to achieve their dreams.
“You have to be strong,” she says. “You can never give up when you are dealing with school and life. You just have to keep going.”
Now, with her new treatment from CHoNJ, the Kennedy family is more hopeful than ever about Makkah’s improved health.
“We see a brighter future for Makkah,” her mother says.