Sorry this is late, but this week’s warrior is Tonya Bright, a mom, clinical lab specialist, wife and sickle cell warrior. Due to sickle cell, Tonya had to let go dreams of being an RN and found satisfaction in her career as a clinical lab specialist. But with the pregnancy of her third child, she developed cardiomyopathy, a heart complication that irrevocably changed the direction of her life. But she is still smiling, dreaming and fighting. Read on for her incredible story and share yours today. Blessings!
- How old where you when you found out you had sickle cell? I was 4 months when I was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia.
- That was younger than most. How did your childhood and your parents influence you in your choice of career? I was sick so much during my childhood, I stayed in and out of hospitals and Doctor’s offices. I suffered a lot from hand and foot syndrome and lower back crisis. My father explained to me what I had and he emphasized the importance of taking care of myself. I needed so much care back then and this was one of the reasons I wanted to be a registered nurse. My father was my motivator in life, he always told me “You can do anything, you can be anything you want to be and if you want children, when you get married you can have them.” He would also say, “Have 2 majors; one you really love and one to fall back on.” I believed in this so much that I convinced both my dad and myself that I was going to be an RN.
- Wow, your dad and my mom must know each other. That is such solid advice. So what do you do? What kind of experience and schooling does one need to get your job? I am a Clinical Laboratory Scientist (CLS). I have an Associates in Applied Science. The best thing to get this job is to have is a B.S. in CLS. A CLS works in the laboratory performing test on blood and body fluids to Aid in the diagnosis of disease. Laboratory work includes the fields of Hematology, Chemistry, Toxicology, Blood Banking, Serology, Microbiology…etc….
I’ve worked in Hematology, Chemistry, Blood Banking (my favorite),Serology and a little bit of Microbiology. From this field a person would learn the cells of the body: Blood cells, Bacterial cells, fungal cell, parasites and Cancer Cells
- My sister is a CLS, so I have an understanding of the nitty gritty details. But for those not in the know, describe a typical day on your job. A typical day on the job would be to organize patient specimens, prepare them for testing as outlined in your employers’ manual, run samples on automated machines used to analyze the blood for you. Other manual methods would require the use of a microscope to help you see the contents of specimens to identify. You would also perform latex testing which would identify the presence of and give less of confirmatory presence of Hiv, Ana, Ra, Syphilli etc… and finally you would report your findings in the computer to your customers which are the Doctors and Nurse who aid in the delivery of health care.
- How were you able to cope with school and sickle cell? While enrolled in Nursing School, I had problems due to sickle cell pain. Getting through clinicals was hard for me physically. I would be in pain sometimes and it was hard for me to get through the day. During my first semester, I remember I had to check out on making the bed while patient was still lying down. I had a partner and we took turns. I made the bed while she was lying in it. I hadn’t told my instructor nor my classmate that I had sickle cell (SS). I got through it and checked out fine and nobody but God and I knew how much pain I was really in. When it became my partners turn to make the bed, I got a chance to lay in that bed-and when I tell you I didn’t want to get up!-it showed. My instructor asked “Are you okay?” I said No. “I have Sickle Cell Anemia and I’m in pain.” She allowed me to take the rest of the day off. I took this experience as a sign, I felt I wouldn’t be a good nurse because how could I deliver the best possible care to someone if I’m hurting? How could I go to work and help turn a patient or help ambulate a patient if my bones are hurting and I felt that in this situation I wouldn’t be a good nurse. I dropped nursing school and went for CLS. While enrolled I had few absences. I got through the 2 year degree program. I had very little sickle cell pain during this time, at least, nothing Tylenol or Ibuprofen couldn’t alleviate. I thought this was a sign also that I had chosen the right field for myself. Sometimes I still have Longing to become a Nurse and I may even go back to school for it someday.
- How do you manage SCD and still maintain a thriving career? When I first feel aches I start with Ibuprofen. If they are more severe I’ll take Percocet. I also take Folic acid every day. I am considering consulting with the doctor on whether I should be on Hydroxyurea. Presently, due to Cardiomyopathy, I had to go out on Disability.
I’m sorry to hear that you had to go out on Disability. While you were working, have you noticed a difference in how your coworkers treat you once they know you have SCD? I haven’t really noticed a difference maybe its because they don’t show it or maybe I haven’t paid that much attention.. For the most part my co-workers have showed concern and my supervisors have been tolerant and have worked with me through my pregnancies-You know under the FMLA family medical leave act they are not to show prejudices or discrimination.
A little about work before we stop talking about it…what advice would you give to someone wanting to join your profession that has sickle cell? Go for it. It is not a very physically demanding occupation and it was easy for me to get through it and work it. You’ll still have a chance to deliver the best health care to patients, you’ll just be doing it “behind the scenes” as I call it vs. the R.N. who is at the forefront of health care delivery.
It looks like you have achieved so much already. Has sickle cell limited any areas of your life? Well I didn’t get as far as I wanted to in school. I plan to go back when my youngest gets in kindergarten. Each time I got pregnant with my children, it was a high-risk pregnancy. As a result, I missed alot of work and my work attendance became bad. After my third child, I developed Cardiomyopathy which should have reversed itself after a years time with the proper medicines but because of sickle cell my healing went slower. I had to take off work since July 2008.
When you do reach obstacles in your life, what helps you through it? Faith helps me through my obstacles. Getting in tune with God. Meditation on his word and Prayer.
- Do you have daily pain? Yes. I have regular pain which I am tired of…it’s not severe though just aching, nagging stiffening.
- What medications are you on? Percocet for pain, Coreg, Enalapril (blood pressure), Spironolactone, Folic acid, Ibuprofen as needed.
- How has sickle cell affected your personal life? For example, are you in a relationship, do you have kids, etc. I have Low energy and pain almost all of the time. It limits playtime with my children-I really hate this! which is why I’m considering hydroxyurea although the pain is not as severe as it could be. My 7 year old is very understanding and she is a little Caregiver herself. My husband kicks in gear and cooks, clean and organizes playtime with the kids. Even though, I won’t complain, life is still good sickle cell don’t own me!
- What a great attitude Tonya. If you need to amp up your energy level, Hydroxyurea is not the key. It doesn’t remove daily pain, or give you energy. My suggestion, look into an Arginine supplement like ProArgi9Plus. This is packed full of vitamins, as well as the arginine which might be enough to give you that energy boost. Amp up your Vit C and B-complex intake as well. Alright, before I get off the soapbox, what would you tell the 14 year old version of yourself if you could? I would tell my 14 year old self: Dress warm, Be more disciplined, listen to your body. Stop at 2 Children.
- Is there any other message you want to tell other warriors? Keep fighting the good fight. Pray and always Believe.–But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings and you shall grow up as calves of the stall And you Shall tread down the wicked for they shall be as ashes under the souls of your feet….Mal.4vs.2 and 3. And Sickle Cell Anemia Is wicked!
Thank you for doing this interview Tonya. I hope that your Cardiomyopathy resolves so you can live the best life with your husband and three children!