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United Way assists in fight against sickle cell

The Tri-County Sickle Cell Disease Association Inc. educates and assists Dallas, Perry and Wilcox county residents about sickle cell disease.

The United Way supports this agency so it can purchase educational brochures, give presentations to ninth and 10th grade students and test the hemoglobin levels of the students.

“Although we receive state funding and United Way and whatever independent local or federal grants, it’s still not enough,” said Margaret Bolling, executive director of the Tri-County Sickle Cell Disease Association, Inc.

The agency also offers support services to individuals and family members directly affected by the disease, medication payment aid, burial expenses, doctor bills, transportation to and from doctor’s appointment and helps to cover expenses to keep utilities from being interrupted.

Although the agency requests $3,000 to $5,000 each year, the United Way is only able to offer $1,200 annually.

Sickle cell disease is a hereditary disease that affects the body’s red blood cells and hemoglobin levels, causing them to shape like crescents and become hard and sticky.

The blood cells then block blood vessels. This disease can be fatal because it can slowly cause organs to shut down.

In Selma and Dallas County, 80 to 100 people have sickle cell disease.

More than 2,000 people have the sickle cell trait, meaning they carry the gene for sickle cell disease, but are not necessarily affected by the disease.

“It takes two people with the trait to have a child with the disease,” Bolling said.

Bolling tries to encourage students to get tested for sickle cell disease at the beginning of childbearing years. “We hope to convince them all to be tested,” Bolling said.

The agency opened in 1983 after a group of residents saw a need for financial assistance for the costs associated with treating sickle cell.

“As time went on they because aware there weren’t any associations in the area,” Bolling said.

It was originally affiliated with a program in Montgomery, but in 1985 separated to create its own agency. Bolling became executive director in 1988, around the same time the agency began to receive funding from the state and United Way.

“The disease is so terrible,” said Jeff Cothran, executive director of the Selma and Dallas County United Way.

“It’s a painful disease and education is the primarily major goal. We fund to help buy educational materials in the school system or people who may seek them out.”