For Lena, childhood was a struggle. On the outside, things seemed normal. She excelled in school and was friendly with the other kids. Yet, she never quite fit in. As the other kids would ride bikes together on a hot summer day or play kickball during recess, Lena would often get left behind. When she did try to join, her body couldn’t handle the hot sun for long and she would often have to rest or take water breaks. You see, Lena suffers from Sickle Cell disease. Because Sickle Cell can’t be seen on the surface, her peers couldn’t understand her physical limitations.
Shortly after Lena turned 9, she and her mother relocated to Indianapolis. On top of her physical struggles, Lena had to adjust to a new neighborhood, a new school and new doctors. Lena’s mother was concerned. She wanted her daughter to be comfortable, happy and healthy, so she reached out to the Martin Center Sickle Cell Initiative, a United Way-supported agency. The Martin Center provided Lena and her mother with educational tools, medical resources and other basic needs to make Lena’s journey with Sickle Cell a little easier, including monthly support groups for them to attend together.
Because of the center, Lena was able to attend Camp Independence for children battling Sickle Cell disease and other blood disorders. For the first time, Lena felt like a truly normal kid. The kids at camp didn’t care that Lena needed to take breaks while playing or that she couldn’t do as much physical activity – because they were like her, too.
Until that point, Lena had always seen herself as a girl who was different from the other kids. No one really understood how she felt. But at the Martin Center, she had finally found a comfortable place – her safe place – to deal with her disease.
Now a college graduate, wife and mother, the Martin Center helped Lena achieve her dreams and become a vibrant, confident “Sickle Cell Warrior,” raising awareness for her disease and the Martin Center any way she can.
“I want to break the silence,” Lena said. “To everyone who has had a hand in making the Martin Center what it is today, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for teaching me that life is to be lived and that helping one another is important.”
Note: United Way works to improve the lives of all Central Indiana residents by focusing our work in four key areas – Education, Income, Health and Basic Needs. Martin Center Sickle Cell Initiative is a United Way-funded agency addressing one or more of these priorities by aiding and enhancing the lives of those affected by Sickle Cell Disease and Sickle Cell Trait.