CINCINNATI — It's tough for me to imagine how I would feel if I had two chronically ill children — one who just had major surgery and the other who needed it.
Charmelle Walker feels blessed.
Not because her 11-year-old-daughter, Taryn, and 9-year-old son, King, both have sickle cell disease and the near constant medical problems that come with it.
She feels blessed because — even with King's recent surgery and one that Taryn needs — the kids have had one of their healthiest years yet.
"This has not been a bad year," Walker said. "This has probably been one of our best years."
WCPO told the Walker family's story last year, both online and on air. With the blessing of her husband, Terrance, Charmelle Walker had just begun speaking out about sickle cell disease. Her goal was to raise awareness, and she hoped sharing her family's story would do that.
Sickle cell disease is a group of red blood cell disorders that is passed from parents who carry the trait to their children. People with sickle cell disease have red blood cells that, instead of being shaped like discs, are shaped like the curved tool called a sickle.
Roughly 100,000 people in the U.S. have the disease, according to the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America. In the U.S., about 1,000 babies are born with sickle cell disease each year, according to the association.
The Walkers told me about the monthly blood transfusions, regular tests and emergency room visits for high fevers and acute pain that Taryn and King endured. But we discussed also the financial struggles facing the kids' parents.
The community responded with offers of help for the Walkers. One local woman started an online effort to raise money to help with medical bills. The Cincinnati chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women adopted the family for the holidays. The School for the Creative and Performing Arts, where Taryn and King are students, provided the family with holiday gifts and gift cards, too, Walker said.
When a local business contacted her to ask what else the family needed, Walker told them they had plenty. But the business decided to surprise the Walkers with $200 in gift cards anyway, she said.
"I have never felt so warm," Walker said. "I saw that people actually cared. It made my friends and I realize, we are blessed."
The Walkers decided to use those blessings to help others. They moved out of Charmelle Walker's mother's place and rent a house of their own in Green Township.
Walker and several of her friends started a group called Humble Hearts that now has about 10 couples in it. The friends gather, pool their money, get donations and give to others in need, she said.
They have talked to people experiencing homelessness, for example, to find out what they need and then have distributed socks and toiletries near Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine.
And on Sept. 25, Walker and her family were part of a team raising money for sickle cell research during the Cincinnati Walks for Kids, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center's largest community fundraiser.
The team raised roughly $14,000, Walker said, with her family raising about $500 in donations.
The team was so successful that the families involved in it now are talking about taking part in health fairs and other community activities to talk about sickle cell and encourage people to get tested for the trait.
And Walker has started making presentations to church groups, becoming the advocate that she now believes she was meant to be.
"There was no mistake for God giving me two kids with sickle cell," she told me. "When God gave me Taryn and King, he gave me permission to be the voice. So I'm going to take on that responsibility, and I'm going to do whatever I can."
Walker aims to teach at least one person each day something about the disease.
Along the way, she is teaching how a family in need also can be a family that gives.
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and also shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.