By Caroline Lee
Sydnee Murphy loves to stay active.
The incoming fourth grader at Westside Elementary School is always practicing basketball, football and gymnastics. She also enjoys reading, especially “The Boxcar Children” book series.
Sydnee lives a seemingly normal life, but looks can be deceiving. The 8-year-old is living with sickle cell anemia, a disease that causes her red blood cells to contort into a sickle shape, leaving her body with a shortage of healthy red blood cells. Sydnee specifically suffers from hemoglobin SS disease, the most common and severe type of sickle cell disease. Hemoglobin SS disease occurs when a child inherits copies of the hemoglobin S gene mutation from both parents. Sydnee has been living with it since she was 3 months old.
However, she is doing more than battling this disease — she is using her voice to spread awareness.
In September 2020, during National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, Sydnee thought of a creative way to share her health journey and express gratitude.
“I decided to make videos and share what sickle cell had meant to me and to thank the nurses and doctors,” said Sydnee, who visits UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital every three months for her treatment.
Sydnee’s mom, Dasaisha Murphy, recorded a video of Sydnee every day for 30 days. The goal was to educate Dasaisha’s Facebook friends about sickle cell’s signs and symptoms.
“In some of the videos, I talked about blood crises, medicines I take and things like that,” Sydnee said. “People were curious and would post questions in the comments for me to answer.”
In a matter of days, the videos had received over 100 likes and countless comments. Soon after, the Murphy family took a photo wearing red sickle cell ribbon pins and posted it online.
“After I got out of work, I had a lot of co-workers wanting to buy our pins,” Dasaisha said.
The Murphys created a model of the metal pin to sell for donations: a maroon ribbon representing the sickle cell awareness logo. The ribbons were sold, and the family created a GoFundMe page for anyone who wanted to donate directly to the cause.
The family ended up selling 100 ribbons and raising more than $1,000.
Sydnee chose to donate all the funds she raised to the Child Life Program at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. She asked for a wish list from Tramekiah Coleman-Spradley, a volunteer services coordinator for the Child Life Program, and spoke with Amy J. Wegner, director of the Child Life Program, to facilitate the donations.
“I wanted to give back to all of the nurses and doctors for all that they have given me,” Sydnee said. “Spreading awareness is important so people know how hard sickle cell patients fight.
“This is so they know how strong we are. We need to be brave.”
Sydnee is a firm believer that when you put your mind to something, you can achieve anything.
“Even [if] you don’t feel so strong, you have to feel strong in your heart,” Sydnee said. “When sickle cell loses, Sydnee wins.”