Woman who inspired Unity Ride shares Sickle Cell journey

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — 8News is taking the lead with awareness about Sickle Cell Disease in Central Virginia ahead of the Unity Ride.

8News Anchor Whitney Harris met up with one of the women who is the inspiration for the ride, and the local doctor who is pushing for medical breakthroughs.

Chamika McKnight was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease when she was six-years-old.

“I passed out and my parents really didn’t know what was wrong with me,” McKnight said. “They took me to the hospital and that’s when my journey with Sickle Cell began.”

She says that journey has been hard.

“It’s been a lot of pain, a lot of ups and downs, difficulties with keeping jobs, difficulties with children,” she said.

People with Sickle Cell Disease have some cells in the shape of a “c,” which can block blood flow causing extreme pain. This is what’s called a “crisis.”

McKnight is now treated at VCU Medical Center with Dr. Wally R. Smith.

“If you had talked to me 10 years ago, I would have told you that we were at a standstill in terms of medical therapy,” Dr. Smith said.

That is because there’s only one FDA approved drug for Sickle Cell — but that could soon change.

“On the breakthrough side, there are anywhere from ten or so new drugs which are in various stages of testing, waiting for approval from the FDA,” Dr. Smith said.

And the biggest breakthrough would be a cure.

“Ten years ago if you had talked to me, I would have said the only cure for Sickle Cell Disease is bone marrow transplant or stem cell transplant,” Dr. Smith said. “And I would have said it’s only in children.”

But adults can now get that treatment, too. It comes with risks of including chemotherapy and radiation. But for some, it may be worth it.

“And that means that no matter how long you’ve lived with the disease, how old you are, you have a chance, if you want, of being cured,” Dr. Smith said.

Many of those raising money for a cure will be at the Unity Ride.

“It’s going to be great. It’s going to be a lot of fun, a lot of people, a lot of bikes, a lot of networking, and getting the information out to the community about Sickle Cell,” McKnight said.

The Sickle Cell Unity Ride is on May 6 at the Petersburg Health Department from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. All of the proceeds will be donated to the Sickle Cell Association of Richmond.