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Sigma Run charities overjoyed

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter dunkleya@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, January 22, 2014    

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LUCK has nothing to do with it. Divine intervention is really what the charities that will benefit from this year's Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run have pegged as the organiser's decision to choose them.

Now in its 16th year, the run, which will take place on Sunday, February 16 at 7:30 am, will see more than 20,000 walkers, joggers, wheelchair racers and competitive runners participating in what is easily regarded as the Caribbean's largest road race. The intention of the organisers is to raise $17 million which will be divided amongst three charities with a portion being reserved to assist with maintenance of the equipment purchased.

The Special Care Nursery at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) is one of the charities which will feel the touch of these wingless angels.

"How do I feel about this? Ingrid Card (Sagicor's assistant vice-president for group marketing) will tell you I almost did a somersault in her office," Professor Minerva Thame told this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange. "She called me last week Thursday at 11 and asked me to come for a meeting at 2:00 pm in her office. I did not know it had anything to do with Sigma Run."

When that meeting ended, Card had managed to get a list of the needs of the nursery from Professor Thame who, incidentally, had prepared that listing two days before for an unrelated matter.

"I really don't believe in coincidence, it was divine intervention. I was really overjoyed that we were even being considered. The following day she called and she said we were selected. I can't express how I felt," Professor Thame said.

For her, Sagicor's grace was the kiss of life to the infants at the Special Care Nursery.

"The Special Care Nursery is dear to my heart. It's where I have worked for many, many years. We have a 30-bed unit, six of which are for babies in intensive care. We look after babies who are 500 grams in size (just about a pound) to as large as 4.2 pounds," she explained.

"Our youngest survivor is actually 540 grams. She was 24 weeks and five days and she's now 22 years old. So we have been at this a long time, and we are proud to say despite our challenges we do produce some good work," she noted.

That good work, however, has come under threat at times, which is where Sagicor's lifeline comes in.

"In terms of our equipment, that is where we are challenged sometimes, and it's very heartbreaking to sometimes make a choice when you have one ventilator; who you are going to put on that ventilator when you have three infants, and for that reason we are overjoyed about this because we will be able to improve the equipment that exists within the unit as we try to continue the work that we do," she said.

For Dr Jennnifer Knight-Madden of the University of the West Indies' Sickle Cell Unit, who has gone far and wide to raise funds to assist children with sickle cell disease, Sagicor's pledge is the proverbial silver lining.

"I've been with the unit for about 16 years, but I have been looking after patients for over two decades because even while I trained in North America that was my purpose. Because sickle cell really is everybody's business in Jamaica," Dr Knight-Madden said.

With one in every 150 babies born in Jamaica presenting with sickle cell disease and 15 per cent of all Jamaican adults having a trait, Dr Knight-Madden was quick to note that sickle cell disease is "not an issue for an ivory tower, it's an issue for all of us".

She said: "This is like a year of Jubilee," she said. "I have travelled literally thousands of miles to try to raise money for this equipment and then Sagicor stepped up to the plate."

The Sickle Cell Unit, she said, was one of the pioneers of the importance of screening new-borns for sickle cell, given that the highest risk of dying is in the first two years.

"If you are not screened at birth you do not know that you have it and you are at risk. Over the decades, interventions that cause little pennies make all the difference. In America and Canada and England they screen at birth, but we who came up with it do not do so across the island," she pointed out.

At present, she said, the Sickle Cell Unit does some screening in the east end of the island, while the Sickle Cell Trust does some screening in the west.

Sagicor's involvement will therefore help the unit to update its equipment while allowing it to work on a further vision, she told the Monday Exchange.

"The Ministry of Health, the Unit and the Trust work together, we meet once per month and what we are trying to do is get screening islandwide. With the Ministry of Health we are going to be going from region to region and coming up with a way that it doesn't matter where your child is born, they are going to get good care for their sickle cell," Dr Knight-Madden said.

"It's so exciting, it's like a dream come true, so it doesn't matter if the baby is born in Clarendon, Savanna-la-Mar, wherever, they will be screened. The mother will be told, the doctors and nurses will have a template to follow so that they will get the appropriate care," she added, noting that the Sigma brand was the ideal platform from which to speak to the issue of discrimination and stigma against sicklers.

Manchester-based charity the Sickle Cell Trust, which complements the work of the Sickle Cell Unit by providing support and improving services for patients, is also on the receiving end of Sagicor's grace this year.

For Professor Graham Serjeant, the chair of the trust which began in 1986, the assistance is an added impetus for the race to preserve and lengthen the life of sicklers.

"In Sub-Saharan Africa a quarter million babies are born each year with sickle cell disease, and there is no way those countries will ever have the resources to provide adequate care. The result is probably the median survivor is less than five years old. In Jamaica, the median survivor (the age to which half the people survive) is 55 years. So prevention has to be an essential component of the management of the disease," he pointed out.

He said the Trust has been venturing into secondary schools in Jamaica as it continues to drive its sickle cell education programme.

Since the first staging of the Sagicor Sigma Corporate Run in 1999, charitable contributions of over $124 million have been donated to several health and child-related charities. The objective of the run focuses on the health and welfare of Jamaica's children.

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