Sickle cell advocates honoured
July 21, 2019
Nearly 4,000 Ontarians have sickle cell disease and about 150,000 have the trait.
Sickle cell is a life-threatening and hereditary blood disorder that causes malformation of red blood cells that become distorted when they transmit oxygen through the body.
As a clinical instructor at Humber College’s School of Health Sciences, Tiney Beckles discovered that her students doing clinical placements weren’t prepared to treat patients with the disease.
“I approached the Dean one day and said we need to do something as we are not giving our students the information they need to care for patients with sickle cell,” she recalled.
Dean Jason Powell agreed and acted.
In June 2013, the School of Health Sciences collaborated with the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario (SCAO) to host the first ever sickle cell anemia conference. With the theme, ‘A Family Affair’, educators, healthcare professionals, community members, politicians and clients shared knowledge to provide evidence-based solutions for transforming the experiences of families living with the disease.
The conference is held annually.
“I wanted to ensure that students coming out of the Humber nursing program got the training and education they need to treat sickle cell patients,” said Beckles who was presented with a Humanitarian Award of Excellence at the 14th annual Sickle Cell Awareness Group of Ontario (SCAGO) gala on June 8.
As of last year, students in the practical nursing program are required to attend a one-day sickle cell workshop in the spring before they graduate.
Though Beckles became a sickle cell advocate six years ago, she has been making significant contributions to the province’s healthcare sector since leaving Jamaica 46 years ago.
The registered nurse was instrumental in the development of a funeral service program featuring Humber College and Montego Bay Community College (MBCC) in Jamaica. It was launched in 2015.
Through the support of Humber that’s helping the Caribbean institution implement their own credential, MBCC offers local and regional specific curriculum that identifies and supports their legal framework for funeral directors.
A founding member of the Jamaican Canadian Association of Nurses and a former SCAO president, Beckles’ love for nursing began when she was 12 years old.
Every month, her father took his children on his delivery run to health clinics to drop off medications.
“There was a stool at May Pen Clinic that the nurse put me to sit on and watch her dress patients’ wounds,” Beckles pointed out. “I asked many questions and I told her I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Before I left, she gave me a few bandages that I applied to objects in our home.”
Dr. Mark Awuku was destined to make his mark in Canada.
When his Canadian government scholarship to study Agricultural Engineering at the University of Guelph was delayed by a year, he entered medical school in Ghana.
“By the time the scholarship was ready for me to take up in 1969, one of my uncles advised me to stay in medical school,” said Awuku who was the recipient of the Medical Award.
In the second year of his paediatric residency, his professor inquired if he would like to continue the residency in Canada.
Awuku took up the offer and completed his internship at the Hospital for Sick Children (HSC) where he was a Chief Resident.
“After I did my fellowship, I was offered the opportunity to continue at HSC,” he said. “But one of my mentors told me I should go away for a while and comeback.”
Awuku did and never returned.
After spending five years in Sydney, Nova Scotia as a consulting paediatrician, he went to Windsor in 1990 and is still there.
A Professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University for the last 26 years, Awuku was Chief of Paediatrics for six years at Hotel Dieu Grace Hospital and Acting Associate Dean.
In 2017, the venerated physician was the recipient of the Ontario Paediatrician of the Year Award.
“He embodies the grace, patience and scholarly accomplishments that are found in many of our 1,400 paediatricians in Ontario,” Paediatrician Alliance of Ontario President Dr. Hirotaka Yamashiro said at the time.
The high esteem in which Awuku is held is evident in the many miles parents travel to bring their children to his office.
“Just yesterday, a parent drove nearly an hour and a half,” the former Canadian Paediatric Society Continuing Professional Development Committee Chair pointed out. “When I asked her why she drove this distance and didn’t go to a paediatrician close to her residence, her reply was, ‘It is worth it’.”
Awuku has four daughters, two of whom attended the celebration.
“Dad is very passionate about his work and he is a great support for us,” said Jocelyn Awuku who is a registered nurse at the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH).
Multi-disciplinary creative professional Linda Awuku concurred with her older sister.
“He taught me many valuable life lessons,” she added.
Manuela Merelles-Pulciniu, a clinical research nurse co-ordinator at the HSC, and Linda Waterhouse – a social worker on the paediatric haematology oncology team at McMaster Children’s Hospital since 1991 – were the recipients of the Nursing and Allied Health Awards respectively while retired Toronto Police Service member Louis Isaacs and York Regional Police Superintendent Chris Bullen were presented with the Volunteer and Community Awards respectively.
Devastated by the loss of her Nigerian-based brother Sunday Afolabi to sickle cell 20 years ago, Lanre Tunji-Ajayi set up the Seed of Life philanthropic organization in June 2005 that morphed into the SCAGO.
To perpetuate her brother’s legacy, she established a scholarship program to help sickle cell students pursue post-secondary education.
The recipients were Fanashawe College Health System Management program student Sahewin Malek who was diagnosed with sickle cell at age 19 and University of Western Ontario undergraduate student Tega Aror.
Coping with the challenges of the disease was very frustrating for Aror who was diagnosed at age three.
“I never understood why my blood was waging war against me,” said the 19-year-old Vocal Performance student who completed high school at Cawthra Park which has a regional arts program. “In the winter, I had to make sure my body was fully covered to lessen my chances of getting sick easily.”
Brock University Medical Sciences student Christabel Oghinan and Roxanne Chukwu, who aspires to be a teacher, were presented with Sholape Arigbabu Memorial scholarships.
Arigbabu was a Brampton Civic Hospital nurse who died suddenly in 2008 at age 45.
With bone marrow from a younger sister, 10-year-old Patrice Bailey is recovering well to the extent that she was able to attend the awards dinner.
“She did the procedure on March 28 and is in no pain right now,” said Bailey’s mother, Marsha Davis. “There was a high risk of her getting a stroke and that was the reason for the urgent transplant. Patrice has never allowed the disease to get the better of her. The only time she was a bit down was when she had chemo.”