Jonesville girl is poster child for sickle cell anemia

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 25, 2000

JONESVILLE, La. – Watching 7-year-old Jasmine Stevenson play, you wouldn’t know she has a medical condition. That is, until now. The Sickle Cell Anemia Research Foundation of Alexandria recently named Jasmine Stevenson of Jonesville as its first-ever poster child.

As the 2000-01 poster child, her image is on every piece of promotional material the foundation gives out, and she will represent the foundation in parades later this year. &uot;What I&160;hope is that this raises awareness of the disease and encourages people to get involved,&uot; said Jasmine’s mother, Lenette.

Sickle cell anemia is an disorder causing chronic anemia. In people with sickle cell anemia, oxygen-carrying hemoglobin molecules in red blood cells are defective, causing the cells to be sickle-shaped. The misshapen cells block small blood vessels, causing episodes of pain and tissue damage.

Email newsletter signup

About 72,000 Americans — especially those whose ancestors came from sub-Saharan Africa, Spanish-speaking countries, Saudi Arabia, India and Mediterranean countries — have the disease. Another 2 million Americans carry the sickle cell trait.

But the disease hit the Stevenson family twice. Brother Brenton, 5, was first diagnosed with the disease four years ago, just after the family moved from Arizona back to Jonesville. Jasmine was diagnosed shortly after, and brother Bradley, 7, has not been diagnosed — and neither have Lenette or her husband, Brad.

&uot;In order for someone to have the disease, both the mother and father have to carry the gene trait, … but I didn’t know anything about it until (Brenton) was diagnosed,&uot; Lenette said.

The disease affects the two children differently. Brenton has attacks of pain so severe only the painkiller Demerol dulls the pain. Jasmine, on the other hand, has milder pain but is susceptible to infections and other illnesses.

That is because the lack of oxygen in Jasmine’s blood lowers her ability to fight off illnesses, such as colds, that other children rebound from quickly.

&uot;She’ll get a high fever during the night and we’ll have to run her … to the hospital in Jena or Natchez,&uot; Lenette said. &uot;She was in the hospital just after Christmas, and she had a fever from 103 to 106 degrees while she was there.&uot;

Lenette said she has to travel to her children’s school, Jonesville Elementary, several times a week to deal with such ailments.

There are bright spots, however. Bradley and Jasmine usually play just like other children, except that Jasmine occasionally tires and has to rest a while.

&uot;But she’s usually as active as anybody,&uot;&160;Lenette Stevenson said.

While naturally shy, Jasmine pursues her pasttimes with enthusiasm. Those include dancing, keyboard playing, some sports and playing with dolls in a bedroom decorated with Disney, Barney and Rugrats themes.

She sings in the youth choirs of two churches, St. Peter Missionary Baptist Church and the Christian Academy of Harrisonburg. Her favorite song, she says softly, is &uot;Goin’ Up Yonder.&uot;

And she shows promise in school. Despite missing more than three months of kindergarten due to her illness, she still makes the honor roll.

Lenette, a volunteer with the foundation, said she knows about 40 people in Catahoula and surrounding parishes with the disease.

She helps host clinics for sickle cell patients in Rapides Parish to help care for patients and teach their parents more about caring for children with sickle cell anemia.

&uot;We need more volunteers,&uot;&160;she said. &uot;Maybe Jasmine being the poster child will help.&uot;