Abaco Mom Releases Memoir on Loving and Losing a Sickler

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Bahamas Sickle Cell Association President Kayla Smith-Mortimer and assistant treasurer, Kristin Beneby were among those in attendance at the official launch of Facing Two Sickles: Families Dealing with Sickle Cell Disease on Saturday, August 17, at Faith Walk Church of God in Coopers Town, Abaco. From left to right, Mrs Smith-Mortimer, author Zetta Sylvia Baillou-Poitier and Ms Beneby.

In her newly released, deeply emotional memoir, Zetta Sylvia Baillou-Poitier shares the challenges of raising children with sickle cell disease and the pain of losing her daughter, in a story that’s relatable to anyone dealing with the loss of a loved one, regardless of circumstance.

“I was inspired to write the book after the death of my daughter,”
said the mother of two. “The book is to keep Vashti’s memory alive and it’s
also dedicated to my son, Vance.”

Between the pages of Facing Two Sickles: Families Dealing with Sickle Cell Disease, the Cooper’s Town resident offers up pieces of her life and that of her children who were born with sickle-cell disease – a genetic condition whereby they inherited abnormal hemoglobin genes from both parents.

Hemoglobin, the protein inside of red blood cells, carries oxygen.
Abnormal hemoglobin makes the red blood cells change shape from smooth and
round to hard, sticky and sickle (banana) shaped. This abnormal form could
trigger trouble as red blood cells moves through the body, causing episodes of
intense pain (called crisis) and, in some cases, organ damage.

It is a disease that affects each person differently. Some persons
with sickle cell disease could lead fairly normal lives. For the Poitier family
that wasn’t the case.

Mrs Poitier’s oldest child, Vashti was a sophomore at Southern
Polytechnic State University in Marietta, Georgia when she contracted pneumonia
and was hospitalized.

Over the course of a week in May 2012, Vashti was in and out of the hospital for pain management treatment. With no signs of improvement, she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). There, Vashti passed away after her lungs collapsed.

The Journey

It was during her pregnancy that Mrs Poitier discovered both she and husband, Floyd, possessed the sickle cell trait and there was a possibility their child could have the disease.

When both parents are carriers, each pregnancy carries with it a
25 per cent (one in four) chance of having a baby with sickle cell disease.

Although carried to full-term, Vashti was born weighing three pounds, 15 ounces. For Mrs Poitier, her low weight at birth was a sickle cell warning sign. Confirmation came six months later when her daughter’s blood was tested.

The Poitiers’ second child, Vance, was born premature at seven
months, weighing one pound 13 ounces. With lungs not fully developed at birth,
from the onset he was the sicklier of the two children. As Vance got older,
each subsequent crisis caused respiratory distress.

At the age of four, doctors placed him in a comatose state for two
weeks. The objective was to give his lungs a break. They were nearing collapse.

Very early on, the Poitiers were forced to make the difficult
decision of splitting up the family. When Vance was just a two-year-old and
Vashti was six, he moved to Freeport with his paternal grandmother. The family
reunited during school breaks and holidays.

“A lot of persons did not understand why we separated the children, but we knew as a family the reason why. It was better to have him in Freeport with my husband’s family and have Vashti with me and my husband in Abaco,” said Mrs Poitier who at the time had a demanding job with a local bank while her husband worked as a linesman with an electricity company.

“We knew the move would be better for his health allowing him to
be in close proximity to a hospital if he needed it rather than having to fly
him to another island if he needed to be hospitalized.”

Despite being in and out of clinics and hospitals, the Poitier
children led full lives.

In 2010, Vashti graduated from Valencia Community College in
Orlando, Florida with an Associate degree in drafting and land surveying. She
enrolled in Southern Polytechnic in January 2011. She was expected to graduate
in 2014, but it was not to be.

Vashti was buried on June 2, 2012, five days before her mom’s 49th birthday and six days prior to then-17-year-old Vance’s high school graduation.

“While we were preparing to bury her, we were also preparing to celebrate his graduation, so it was a whirlwind. It was rough,” Mrs Poitier recalls.

Surviving

Although she has wrapped up her book, a project which took three
years to complete, her family’s journey with the sickle cell disease continues.

Vance, who is studying computer science at Valencia, his sister’s
alma mater, went into a crisis two days prior to his mother’s Saturday, August
17, book launch at Faith Walk Church of God in Coopers Town, Abaco.

Mr. Poitier travelled to Orlando to take care of the couple’s son
who has been hospitalized three times since enrolling at the tertiary
institution.

“I want persons to know whether it’s sickle cell, cancer or
whatever disease your child may have, you can find strength through God. You
must depend on God for your strength. Family support is also important,” said Mrs.
Poitier.

“Even if your child wasn’t sick but you lost a child through an
accident, this book is to encourage and counsel on how to survive in the midst
of that storm.”

Making a special trip to Abaco for the official launch and book
signing was Kayla Smith-Mortimer, president of the Bahamas Sickle Cell
Association and Kristin Beneby, the organization’s assistant treasurer.

The association felt it vital to lend its support and endorse the
new release.

“We are proud of the book Mrs. Poitier has written. I know that it
will touch the heart of the readers, like it did with me,” said Mrs.
Smith-Mortimer, whose association is working to support Bahamians afflicted
with sickle cell across the nation.

“I believe it will give others the courage to speak up about the
disease.”

Facing Two Sickles: Families Dealing with Sickle Cell Disease is available online at barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com in paperback, for download on Kindle and as an audio book.

Author Zetta Sylvia Baillou-Poitier with her two children, Vance and Vashti

Facing Two Sickles: Families Dealing with Sickle Cell Disease is available online at barnesandnoble.com and Amazon.com in paperback, for download on Kindle and as an audio book

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