This weeks’ warrior is Akimie W., a beautiful artist studying art therapy and working as a NY runway model. Check out her fascinating and fabulous life story below. Fierce!
How old where you when you found out you had sickle cell?
I came down with a bad case of pneumonia at the age of 5; this is when my parents found out that they were both carriers of the sickle cell trait, and that their second child had the full disease.
How were you able to cope with school and sickle cell?
School was tricky so I learned to become a great memorizer. If I missed a few days and had the luck to turn up on a test day, I would have to cram as many notes as possible and engulf as much as I could. I’m from Barbados, and there was no extra help given to students with medical conditions. Fortunately, I had teachers who took interest into me academically. When I came to New York and started high school they decided to let me know nicely that I would have to be home schooled due to my numerous absences. This took an already socially deprived 17 year old and secluded her even more.
My favorite subject, art, was not available to me, however, my home school teacher, Mister Fisher, got me through all my classes. He even sat by my hospital bed while I took one of the regional exams. College was where my never quit, stubborn, and driven attitude helped me; because although I had great professors who were very understanding, it was tough for me. I had a lot of setbacks because my attacks keep getting worse, I eventually took almost two years off to get a bone marrow transplant. Going back weighed heavily on my body and mind. I had to deal with not graduating with my entry class and so much more. I am now proud to say I am a graduate of the College of New Rochelle with a BFA in Art Therapy. I plan to go back for my Masters degree next year.
How did your childhood and your parents influence you in your choice of career?
I loved making things with material I found wherever, and started drawing. Art is not considered by my family to be a true profession. I entertained the idea of becoming a veterinarian for a very long time (my father’s wish), my mom dissuaded me however by merely saying, “Akimie can you imagine having to take care of a big ole cow who might kick you?” Even though I loved animals being kicked by a cow was not my idea of fun.
I had a lot of contact with nurses because some of my family would let me come to work with them. I enjoyed helping people but I knew how hard it would be to be in the medical profession especially sinceI have a behemoth dislike for math and a tendency to claim the hospital bed as my own. When I came to the US I found out that I could combine my love for art with my love for helping others and Art therapy has become what I am destined to do.
What do you do? What kind of experience and schooling does one need to get your job?
At the moment I am a runway model but I am going back to school to become an art therapist. For that profession you must be an artist and somewhat of a psychologist, because you will be using art in therapeutic ways to help others. I would like to work with child life in the hospitals before I return to Barbados and start a clinic there. To do this I need to get my Masters and then my Doctorate, so if I did not want my own clinic it would be 6 years of higher education.
A typical day for runway is pretty straightforward, getting the gig is the hard part but after that you just hang out while being dolled up, then you put on an attitude and down the runway. Art therapy involves persuading people that they can do some form of art, then there is the fun of sitting and listening while watching and enjoying their breakthroughs and accomplishments. There is a lot of paper work also and maintenance but so far I have enjoyed my internship.
How do you manage SCD and still maintain a thriving career?
I believe that God has let me live for a reason. I have opted for maintain as normal a life as I can. I have a No Quitting Rule plus I have medications for pain. My tolerance and understanding of my body allows me to know how far I can push. I also have a great medical team behind me and a very supportive family. I dare any one to tell me that I can’t continue my ascension to an even more prosperous career.
Have you noticed a difference in how your coworkers treat you once they know you have SCD?
I use to tell people right away that I had SCD. For modeling I have to because they see my port when I go to castings. There is a difference in how people treat you; sometimes its good other times its bad. I believe that education is the best way to change any negative or misguided treatment at work.
When you do reach obstacles in your life, what helps you through it?
God, my mom, my brother and the thought of all the people who have fought for me to get this far I owe them and myself. I must overcome any and all obstacles put in my path
Do you have regular pain (more than 2x a week)? How do you cope with this when you are working?
I do but sometimes it’s more of an annoying pain. If I keep busy it goes away, sometimes if I can’t sit I act like I need to walk or I have to get something. I take my painkillers if I can’t ignore it and only people who know me well know when I am in pain so I can play it off.
What is your daily medication regimen and what medications do you take when you are in pain?
I take meds in the morning and at night. I get blood transfusions once a month, and my pain killers switched every once in a while.
How has sickle cell affected your personal life? For example, are you in a relationship, do you have kids, etc.
I had no time for a relationship while I was in school as all my time went into trying to stay healthy. I only had one boyfriend for 3 years and it’s hard I think for them to understand the things you have to go through. He did well until right before my bone marrow transplant (he did not want me to do it) I dumped him because among other things I did not want him to worry or see me at my true worse. I would like to have kids of my own someday but I am worried that it may not happen. In any case adoption may be my course of action in that regard.
Looking at the 14 year old version of yourself, what would you tell him or her if you could…?
That life is hard for everyone but no matter what keep studying have faith and triumph in all your accomplishments because you are worth it. [stextbox id=”custom”]Don’t be afraid of people or the world, don’t let anyone tell you how to feel or what you can or can’t do. Own your individuality listen to your gut feelings and to your body, own sickle cell anemia but don’t let it own you. God will keep you always and there is a time for everything. [/stextbox]
To all those with SCD keep on striving, keep on living and laughing. We are strong we are beautiful and we can persevere in the grimmest of times.