On June 22, the St. Petersburg Chapter of Sickle Cell Disease Association held a Big Brother-Little Brother, Big Sister-Lil Sis Golfing Tournament at St. Petersburg Twin Brooks to help raise awareness and funds of the sickle cell disease.
BY KARIN DAVIS-THOMPSON, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Mary Murph said there was a time when sickle cell awareness wasn’t on her radar. She didn’t realize how the trait worked or that it was possible to pass the gene off to her children.
Then, her daughter was diagnosed, and it changed everything. Now, she is a staunch advocate, starting a local chapter of the Sickle Cell Disease Association (SCDA) more than 50 years ago and continues to urge people, especially in communities of color, to get tested for the trait.
Sickle cell anemia is a severe form of anemia that impacts the shape of red blood cells, distorting them into a crescent-like shape and restricting the ability to carry oxygen through the body. Typically, the cells are round and flexible; with sickle cell, the shape is distorted, and the cells are often sticky and rigid.
Recently, Murph and the St. Petersburg Chapter of SCDA participated in a series of events to educate the community on sickle cell in honor of Sickle Cell Awareness Day, observed in June.
“We just wanted opportunities to talk to people about sickle cell and urge them to get tested,” she said.
The theme for the day was “Shine a Light on Sickle Cell,” encouraging the community to learn more about the disease and whether or not they carry the trait. While sickle cell can be found in any ethnic group, the disease is more prevalent in African-American communities.
Along with an awareness day at her church, the local chapter participated in a golf tournament fundraiser to benefit the St. Pete chapter and a community health fair – their goal is to educate as many people as possible about sickle cell.
On June 22, a Big Brother-Little Brother, Big Sister-Lil Sis Golfing Tournament was held at St. Petersburg Twin Brooks, a par 3, 9-hole golf course. The golf event was sponsored by the St. Petersburg Golf Club and The Men of Yesterday, Today, and The Future, a non-profit organization that provides mentoring and support services to public schools and community groups.
The outing garnered 20 two-person teams (adult/child 40 participants). The First Tee Program of St. Petersburg provided the host organizations with enthusiastic kid participants and paired them with adult golfers. One notable golfer was Rufus “Jabbo” Lewis, who is enshrined in the African American Golfers Hall of Fame in West Palm Beach.
Trophies were presented to the top three teams, and every child participant received a golf medallion. The event raised more than $3,000 for the host organization’s sickle cell clients and families. So many positive responses to this golf event were received, and plans for next year are in the works.
Murph said sometimes communities don’t understand what it is until it impacts someone close to them.
“I think sometimes there is a lack of understanding,” she said. “People don’t know what sickle cell is, and it can be hard to find information.”
The lack of available information is what prompted Murph to establish the St. Pete chapter.
“I wasn’t able to get the information I needed,” she said. “I had family members with sickle cell and wanted to learn more, so I started writing and asking for information so that I could be educated and educate others. When I started out on this journey, I had no idea where I was going and no idea where it was going to take me.”
Today, Murph is grateful for the journey and the chance to educate the community on a disease that has impacted her life and her family. She lost her daughter Terri to sickle cell nearly five years ago; she was 52.
“I just want to encourage people to learn more and to get tested,” she explained. “There is a blood test you can take to determine if you have the trait. You can ask for it. It is very important because you or your partner can pass on the trait without knowing it.”
For more information on sickle cell anemia, visit sicklecellstpete.org