Choosing strength in the face of illness
For the first nine months of his life, Laventrice Ridgeway was a happy and laid-back baby. Then one day, he started crying and would not stop. In search for answers, his grandmother took him to the emergency department where he received a diagnosis that would follow him for the rest of his life – sickle cell disease.
For the first nine months of his life, Laventrice Ridgeway was a happy and laid-back baby. Then one day, he started crying and would not stop.
In search for answers, his grandmother took him to the emergency department where he received a diagnosis that would follow him for the rest of his life – sickle cell disease. “From that day forward, my grandmother made it her mission to learn the ins-and-outs of sickle cell disease,” said Ridgeway, who is now in his thirties.
When both parents have the sickle cell trait, there is a one-in-four chance that each of their children will have sickle cell disease. The inherited red blood cell disorder – which causes cells to become hard, sticky and C-shaped – can cause pain and other serious problems such as infection and stroke. His diagnosis came just a few years before the universal newborn screening for sickle cell disease became routine in 1988.
Ridgeway said the Pediatric to Adult Care Transition (PACT) Program at the USA Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center played a vital role his life – not only for his health, but also in all aspects of his life.
As a young child, Ridgeway vividly remembers crying as he watched a family member graduate from Loyola University – a notion he only dreamed of, as he thought it would never be possible for him due to his health.
“PACT not only cared for my physical health, they also equipped me with the resources and support outside of medicine that is necessary to succeed in life,” he said. “As a first-generation college student, PACT played a integral role in my pursuit to higher education, as they guided me through the college admissions process at the University of South Alabama.”
With the guidance provided by the PACT program and the support of his grandmother, Ridgeway entered his freshman year at USA in 2006. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and is now working on his doctorate at USA.
The PACT program also introduced Ridgeway to the Office of Student Disability Services at USA, a much needed resource for students experiencing range of disabilities. He utilized these resources throughout his undergraduate career, as he often missed class due to his health.
Now, Ridgeway laughs as his life has come “full circle.” Currently, he serves as a coordinator for the Office of Student Disability Services at USA – working with students from all walks of life, including those with sickle cell disease.
“I serve as the initial point of contact for students with disabilities that are looking for accommodations from the University,” he said. “I see students with a range of disabilities – from learning disorders to cancer and everything in between.”
He attributes his grandmother’s unwavering pursuit to educate herself about the disease coupled with the top-notch care provided by the USA Health Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center for molding him into the person he is today.
Throughout his childhood, Ridgeway remembers experiencing frequent pain crisis that would often result in long hospital stays at USA Health Children’s & Women’s Hospital. There, he would be confined to a hospital bed as he received intravenous fluids and pain medications.
The pain crisis – triggered by extreme changes in temperature, stressful situations and even dehydration – posed many challenges during his childhood.
According to Ridgeway, the key to living with sickle cell is to have a positive attitude and to become an expert on your specific type of disease. There are six different types of sickle cell disease, and Ridgeway made it his mission to learn everything about HbS beta thalassemia – the type he has.
Though he has experienced trying times, Ridgeway vowed to never let sickle cell define him. “I have to be strong and embrace what makes me unique,” he said. “I am just a regular person who happens to have sickle cell. Sickle cell is just one of the many components that make me who I am, and I’ve grown to love that!”