Her story: When she was growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida, Brandi Abernethy was so often sick from her illness that school officials demanded she be home-schooled through her middle and high school years. But Abernethy didn’t let that put a damper on her academic or civic achievements—or, for that matter, her social life. She graduated a semester early, all the while volunteering for her local Sickle Cell Association—at one point becoming the “poster child,” raising awareness about the disease throughout the community. She’s now fulfilling her dream to become a hematology-oncology nurse while raising her three-year-old son.
Inspiration: “My mother always told me growing up that I couldn’t give in to this sickle cell disease, that I just had to put it in my bag and keep going. When I was 5 I had to have my tonsils removed, but after the surgery I threw up nine pints of blood and was in a coma for four days. The doctors didn’t want me to go to school…But somehow over the years my mom always made me feel like I was normal.”
Unimaginable hurdle: “My pregnancy was absolutely horrible. I had crisis after crisis, transfusion after transfusion. My lung collapsed, I caught pneumonia—it was constant.”
How she got through: “My doctors had told me I would never even be able to have a child, so it was important to me to have this child. It made me fight—and now my miracle child is giving me more of a reason to survive.”
Why nursing: “Over the years, I’ve lost friends. And that gave me motivation. I began to think I can actually help people like me. Maybe I can change things for another person.”
Bright side: “I’ve been involved in the community all my life. I wouldn’t have the drive that I have without sickle cell. I think it’s made me who I am.”