Growing up with sickle cell anemia, a genetic blood disorder that can cause infections, pain, and strokes, Rasaan McCall realized early on that he needed to set clear goals and cultivate the discipline necessary to achieve them. The 20-year-old student learned he needed to take control of his own health care from an early age – a difficult task for anyone living with a condition that can be severely debilitating.
But McCall always stays positive, and says focusing on the little things that bring him joy is the secret to happiness. He must be worried about his health, he says, but that, too, can be fun.
“I like to eat vegetables, fruits and make sure I have balanced meals. I think a lot about what I eat. And I drink a lot of water, that’s really important, ”said McCall, who takes classes at Broward College and works part-time at Publix. A big smile never leaves his face as he speaks.
McCall is one of those selected to receive help through The Wish Book, a program of the Miami Herald and the Nuevo Herald which is launching its 40th annual appeal to the South Florida community to help the needy.
The youngest of six siblings from a low-income family, McCall was the only one born with the disease. Sickle cell disease can be a number of inherited red blood cell disorders that affect cells that travel through blood vessels to carry oxygen to the body. Healthy red blood cells are round and travel easily through tiny blood vessels.
But in people like McCall who have sickle cell anemia, the red blood cells get hard, sticky, and sickle shaped. They die prematurely, which causes a chronic shortage of red blood cells, so not enough oxygen reaches the body. This can lead to a number of problems, including heart failure and impaired brain function.
The worst symptoms are caused by sickle cell anemia, which gets stuck in the blood vessels and obstructs the flow. This can cause pain and other serious problems such as infections, strokes, and acute chest syndrome, which includes pneumonia.
Sickle cell disease can be especially difficult for children. McCall said he remembers to always be extra careful when playing with others. He also often missed activities because he had to go to the hospital. But frequent crises never hampered his friendships, he said.
“It was harder when I was a kid, but now I feel more confident; I really like going out with my friends, playing basketball. I have learned to take care of myself so that I can lead a normal life, ”he said.
McCall moved from New York to Fort Lauderdale, where his grandmother lives, at the age of 6. He then began treatment at the Children’s Diagnostic and Treatment Center in Fort Lauderdale, but returned to New York two years later. He returned in 2015 to live with his grandmother, a supporter who helps him keep up with doctor’s appointments, tests and other requirements imposed by his diagnosis.
Shelby Casper, McCall’s care coordinator, said part of his success comes from accepting support from his health team.
“Rasaan is such a bright and enthusiastic young man. It is such an honor not only to work with him, but also to learn from him. He’s always so positive and never complains despite the challenges he faces, ”said Casper.
McCall brings his positive attitude and big smile to class at Broward College, where he is working on an associate’s degree with the intention of majoring in environmental science or biology with a specialization in veterinary medicine.
“I love animals and I also love the environment. I want to study and maybe work as a veterinary technician or zoologist, ”he said.
McCall’s vacation wish is to be able to buy school supplies and new clothes. He would also like to give his grandmother a nice dinner in a restaurant. Gift cards for groceries or gas would also be of great help to McCall’s family.
How to help
Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For more information call 305-376-2906 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. (Items in greatest demand are often school laptops and tablets, accessible furniture and vans.) Learn more at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook.