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Hospital groundbreaking
honors Riverdale family

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

For the last 12 years, Tamika Bishop has been a regular at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding. Her three children Benecia, 12, Taquoyah, 11, and Bennie, 8, all have sickle cell anemia.

An inherited blood disorder, sickle cell anemia causes normally round platelets in the blood to become curved, restricting and blocking the flow of blood throughout the body. The disease can lead to a myriad of complications, including swelling, sudden bouts of pain, leg ulcers, organ failure, infections, delayed puberty, and stroke.

The probability of two parents with a sickle cell trait passing the disease to their children is 25 percent. For the Bishops, the disease has been passed on three separate occasions.

"I have a trait, and [their] dad has a trait," said Bishop. Despite Bishop and the children's father not having sickle cell, all three of their children suffer with the disease.

The disease has taken a considerable toll on the Bishop family. At only 12 years old, Benecia has already suffered seven strokes and several seizures. Taquoyah is at high risk for stroke and has been receiving blood transfusions to replace her irregular platelets -- sometimes every 10 days -- for the last seven years. Bennie had a silent stroke at the age of 3 and has been receiving transfusions since.

Despite being a single mother, bouts of unemployment, and other difficulties, Tamika has continued to bring her three children to Hughes Spalding, several times a month for the past 12 years. On Wednesday, Hughes Spalding honored the Bishop family during the groundbreaking of its new facility scheduled to open in August of 2009.

"The Bishop family, they are a part of our Hughes Spalding family," said Julia Jones, vice president of operation of Children's at Hughes Spalding. "We wanted the children to be a part of our groundbreaking ceremony, because our whole goal of putting the new facility here is to give them a better environment."

Jones said the original Hughes Spalding facility, located on Jesse Hill Drive in downtown Atlanta, was built in 1952. It will be demolished in December 2009 and converted into a parking lot adjacent to the new, state-of-the-art facility.

Beatrice Gee, medical director of the sickle cell and hematology program at Children's at Hughes Spalding, said despite being relocated from Grady to Hughes Spalding several years ago, the Bishops have continued to trust the same group of doctors. Having known the family for more than 10 years, she is impressed by the Bishop's commitment to the hospital, as well as to each other.

"The children have gone through a lot of different medical crises and the family has really hung in there," said Gee. "Even in the face of all of the social difficulties that come with the illness, the children stay happy.

"When times are tough, they support each other," Gee continued. "When one doesn't feel well, the other two are right in there with them."

Tamika said she is able to draw strength from the strength of her children.

"They are so mature about the situation," Bishop said. "They know a lot more about sickle cell than you would think someone would know at such a young age.

"My oldest daughter is my inspiration," the young mother said. "She inspires me to be stronger than I would normally be."