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Rare Leader: Ashley Valentine, Co-Founder, Sick Cells

Rare Leader: Ashley Valentine, Co-Founder, Sick Cells

The Fundamentals
Identify: Ashley Valentine

Title: Co-Founder
and President

Group: Sick Cells

Social Media Links:


Illness focus:  Sickle cell disease a genetic blood disorder

Headquarters: Lisle,

How did you turn out to be
involved in uncommon illness: My older brother, Marqus, has sickle cell
disease. In 2015 and 2016, he turned septic and we virtually lost him. At that
level, the illness was sort of beating him and we didn’t have any remedy. We
have been simply given the option of ready for the illness to finish him off and
watch his physique disintegrate over time. Luckily, drug improvement has moved
into sickle cell illness and in 2017, someone from Pfizer asked me, “Have
you heard about Rare Disease Week and EveryLife Foundation?” I stated,
“No.” After which I did research and in 2017 we turned lively within the
rare disease area.

Previous career: ESL Instructor, well being coverage researcher, medical research coordinator, and presently consults to pharmaceutical business.

Schooling: Bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in Spanish and music from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, Grasp of analysis methods (MRes) from the College of Aberdeen

The Organization
Organization’s mission: Our mission is to elevate the voices of the sickle cell illness group by means of schooling, by means of changing insurance policies, and through highlighting the resilience finally to end stigma.

Organization’s technique:
Our technique is to get rid of the stigma of sickle cell disease. It’s been stated
that individuals are dying with sickle cell illness quicker from prejudice and stigma
than they are from the disease. And Sickle cell is a horrific illness. It provides
individuals strokes and seizures, kills your liver and your spleen, and it messes up
your kidneys. There’s all this pain and sepsis however as a result of there’s a lot
stigma round this disease, the stigma is killing individuals quicker because they
can’t get access to care or docs. That’s extraordinarily alarming that folks and
conduct are ending lives. Our technique is by helping individuals understand actually
what sickle cell is, who sickle cell impacts, and how they will help the sickle
cell disease group, we will finally get rid of stigma. That may result in
extra entry to care, and within the process of adjusting hearts and minds, we additionally
need to change coverage to protect the sufferers.

Funding technique: This is eternally evolving. Our present funding strategy includes anyone and everybody who touches sickle cell disease. Our main grant money comes from a whole lot of the pharmaceutical corporations right now. Our first main donation came from the leg ulcer care company, Enluxtra. We started reaching out to groups that took care of the co-morbidities of sickle cell. The opposite piece of it’s a grassroots effort involving everybody. A lot of people work together with the sickle cell group unknowingly. Whether you’re a instructor, you’re a good friend, you’re a boss, or any of those forms of issues, you’ve in all probability have interacted with sickle cell. Our second major donor last yr was truly an LGBTQ kickball league in Washington D.C. We’ve got this event referred to as Wiggin’ Out and the fashion designer has sickle cell disease and is from the LGBTQ group. All of these drag queens present up they usually mannequin for us. It’s a particular occasion as a result of it’s this fusion of two communities that have had to cope with stigma. They arrive collectively for this one overlying trigger and it’s so much enjoyable. The kickball staff last yr gave extra money than a number of the drug corporations.

What’s altering at your group within the next yr: For one factor, the funding technique. And we’re solidifying our packages and shifting more in the direction of being program-based.

Administration Fashion
Administration philosophy: Pull in as many specialists as attainable. Meaning we’ve a board of specialists. I all the time am asking individuals for donations of time. Enterprise improvement specialists, policy specialists, communication specialists, photographers work with us. We’ll pull in any professional who can help the mission and assist us do whatever we’re doing higher.

Guiding rules
for operating an efficient group: Do a couple of packages and do them nicely.
That’s considered one of them. We don’t need to be good at every thing. We have now to seek out our
candy spots and succeed at them. Since
we’re not good at all the things, we associate. We work with different organizations that
have the assets somewhat than making an attempt to recreate them. We worked with
EveryLife Basis for an e mail campaign once we have been pushing exhausting for a
sickle cell invoice last yr that Congress was going to put on the lame duck
calendar. We worked with many organizations as a result of we just didn’t have the
bandwidth and others did. And then report on every thing. In 2019, we’re making an attempt
to be higher at reporting. We do need to report on outcomes so we will see
what’s working and what’s not working. After which we will deliver those studies to
our funders, our companions, and the community that we’re serving.

Greatest option to hold your
organization related: Variety is one of the simplest ways to keep our organization
related. That is throughout the board—variety in thought, variety in age,
variety in race, and gender, all of these things. America’s altering and
growing and with the ability to have totally different people who have totally different backgrounds
aid you remedy problems in several ways. Everybody has a special vantage
level of that drawback. Variety has actually helped us stay organized and
blossom into an effective group.

Why individuals like
working with you: I might say it’s because regardless that I take myself
critically and I’m fairly critical individual however, at the finish of the day, you need to
snigger. I do try to maintain issues constructive and settle for that I don’t know
every thing. If somebody comes via with a very good concept, I attempt to determine
out a option to give them the assets to make their concept blossom. And take heed to
individuals. We’re interviewing interns right now they usually have so much power. It’s
power that I typically lose. Ensuring that they have the assets to
produce and study and develop and maintain that power going is one thing I attempt to do
with every single person who works with our group.

Mentor: I might say I have a number of mentors. For the sake of getting a number of, nice ideas there’s Sally Turbyville. She on our board. She is my former boss, and she or he used to run a multi-million-dollar venture on her own. As a lady who was excessive up and a mom, with the ability to navigate that is something that I aspire to be. Additionally, my mom is a mentor. My mom started her schooling late as a result of she had a sick youngster with sickle cell disease. She was one of many first black nurses in her job. She’s handled every little thing that comes with being black. Coming from a lower-income state of affairs, she worked with a certificate, then a bachelor’s diploma, then a master’s degree. She’s made positive that we’ve had each opportunity. She all the time informed us, “You’re good enough for everything.” We rode horses as youngsters. I played classical violin. I was typically the only black individual in an area.

On the Job
What evokes you: The resilience of the sickle cell illness group evokes me. We go out and we speak to lots of people. The tales that folks inform us are completely unimaginable. There was one lady who was having a baby, but her daughter was hospitalized so she someway convinced her body not to go into labor until her daughter was out of the hospital. She was in a position mentally not to ship till she might get her other child out of the hospital. There have been two different guys—greatest buddies. One has sickle cell and one was a caregiver. They usually have been in their early twenties they usually realized that they wanted each other. They have been capable of get by means of school and proceed that relationship, that friendship by means of all of the ups and downs of sickle cell disease. Or the opposite lady, who had a hip alternative while she was in regulation faculty. She had to schedule her hip alternative in between learning for the bar and taking the bar. She had to watch for a break so she might get her hip alternative, undergo rehab, after which get ready to take the bar.

What makes you hopeful: What makes me hopeful is that individuals are starting to acknowledge sickle cell disease. There was a 60-Minutes particular on it on Sunday, or it obtained successful in The New York Occasions. We have been in Kaiser Well being News final yr telling the narrative about how all the cards are stacked towards the sickle cell group and have been stacked towards the sickle cell group perpetually. Simply now, individuals are dwelling and capable of share actual tales about how the system has not labored for us. I feel individuals are listening. The opposite piece of that is drug improvement. There’s a lot of coverage and legislation that have created this environment for drug improvement to start out in uncommon illnesses as an entire. There’re at the very least 37 drug corporations creating medicine proper now for sickle cell illnesses. There’s hope that our voices are being heard. It’s a new set of ears that really care. We’re capable of begin recent so that folks aren’t stigmatized. They’re here, able to pay attention. That’s useful for lots of people locally.

Greatest group
determination: We’re going to again to variety, however I feel that may be damaged
out into variety in the individuals we work with, and in addition variety in our
partnerships. We work with a wide selection of people. Not everyone is from the sickle
cell disease area on our advisory board and employees. In a approach, that permits for
a few of the brain to take over versus the guts. When you’re so close to the
disease like I am, a number of occasions you’ll react with emotion. The opposite individuals
will say, “No, that’s not the perfect entrance. That’s not an excellent concept for the
greater image. In the long term, this doesn’t do as properly for the group
as it might should you have been to do it a special means.” When it comes to partnership,
there are such a lot of organizations which were effective when it comes to raising
cash and federal legislation, state legislation, grassroots networking, and
getting medicine delivered to market. With the ability to associate with all of these other
teams has given us tools and momentum. We’re not going into this sea of
darkness about methods to try to deliver medicine to market, the right way to transfer federal
laws, or the way to educate the group on all this stuff.

Hardest lesson
discovered: Studying to work to vary individuals’s perceptions of sickle cell
illness. I do know what the stigma is, and I’ve skilled it. I was on a name
as soon as and the entire name stopped and the individual leading it who was from a serious
federal company, stated to me, “Are you black? I couldn’t tell by your voice.” It
identical to froze me as a result of I wasn’t anticipating it. I used to be speaking confidently
concerning the notion of sickle cell and the way we had to return and ask the
patients, “Why do they participate in clinical trials?” Patients do take part
in medical trials however it’s being reported that they don’t. I stated, “Perhaps
you need to ask them.” After which that query came lobbed at me. I’m making an attempt to
take every moment as a educating second. As a result of my preliminary reaction would have
been like, “Go jump in a lake.” However, that’s not efficient. We’d like this individual.
I want them to know the place the sickle cell group is and the right way to make it
grow higher. When things like which might be stated, if I react with heart, the
dialog shuts down. I have to have robust skin and I’ve to soak up moments
like those and use them as a moment to softly say, “Um, yes.” Work out a means
learn how to say, “That’s not exactly related to the conversation but, what would
you wish to know? I can explain it to you.”

Toughest organization
determination: We work with lots of volunteer employees and we work with loads of
individuals. It’s all the time robust once we’re bringing on new individuals and learn how to make
positive they get the assets they need to need to get the work completed. With
volunteer employees, lots of people are working full-time in addition to doing
this. The toughest group choice was even starting a non-profit and
then determining learn how to run it off of the assets that we’ve.

Largest missed
opportunity: I wouldn’t say they’re missed. I might just say that they’re
nonetheless evolving. We need to tell tales in a means that we’re not capable of do but
as a result of we don’t have the assets. There’s simply so much content material and so many
stories. But we’re not producing them as quick as we wish, or as visually
as we wish as a result of we don’t have the assets. We’re working in the direction of
figuring that out. We introduced on new board members and there’s this marketing consultant who
is graciously donating her time to get the group up and operating and
helping us fundraise.

Like greatest concerning the
job: Assembly individuals with sickle cell and meeting individuals with these
unimaginable tales—not even just sickle cell, simply a number of the rare disease
stories. This is something I care about, and we are beginning to see tangible
outcomes because of our work. The truth that a homosexual kickball league in D.C. knows
what sickle cell illness is and exhibits as much as a fundraiser, that by no means happened
once I was a kid. The typical individual wasn’t speaking about sickle cell illness
and now, that’s starting to happen a bit bit. That’s all the time rewarding and

Like least concerning the job: I’m all the time busy. I’m so tired. I
really feel like I’m all the time drained, but this is my life as nicely. I do have to ensure
to guard myself typically from getting overburdened. That’s one thing I’m
studying to stability. Going to some of these medical conferences and the docs
will listing when everyone’s going to die with sickle cell and all of the dangerous
problems and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and I’m identical to,
“I cannot sit through another one of these conferences.” When all you
do is speak about life expectancy at 45. I do know that’s not true because I’ve met
people who find themselves 65 and it’s just mentally exhausting. I’ve to attempt to go work
and speak to individuals about sickle cell however, I’m just not feeling joyful about it
because I’ve just been by means of sitting by means of this morbid convention.

Pet peeve: My brother Marqus is the opposite
co-founder and he doesn’t verify his e mail as a lot as I would really like him to.
That’s my first pet peeve. I’m kidding. And then my pet peeve is sickle cell
research docs love to put a dying date on sickle cell patients. Everyone
informed my brother, and lots of different individuals his age: “You’re not going to stay
previous two.” “You’re not going to live past 10.” “You’re not
going to reside previous 12.” It’s like each 2 to five years, they gave him a new
demise date. And that rattles an individual’s soul. I’ve talked to people who also
were given dying dates and one of the ladies I talked to stated, “You already know, I
didn’t assume I was going to stay past 25. I didn’t care if I finished excessive
faculty. Why would I’m going to school if I’m not going to stay past 25?” And
then, she ended up having two lovely youngsters and she or he stated that they virtually
modified her life as a result of she had a cause to reside. I met someone lately.
Their baby is 15 and somebody came in and informed them that their baby wasn’t
going to reside previous the age of two in the event that they didn’t do a bone marrow transplant. That’s
not affordable. I feel docs don’t know every thing. A number of the greatest docs
are the group docs that aren’t in research which might be using all their
assets to maintain the sickle cell group. But some of these ultra-scientist
research docs, who don’t take heed to the sufferers, offer you their analysis fairly
than the lived experience. I get so annoyed at some of these research
meetings as a result of they’re presenting research and then I’ll be the primary one to
say, “You realize, that’s not the way it happens in real life. Sufferers aren’t
dying at 40. They’re dying, however a few of them live. And you need to really
speak to the ones who are dwelling to see how they’re dwelling, to see if we will
recreate the identical conditions for someone else.”

First selection for a
new career: I’m really good at writing poems. I might need to write
Hallmark poems. Like greeting poems. My poems are awesome. Awesome. Awesome.

Private Style
Most influential e-book: Turning into
by Michelle Obama and Kinky Gazpacho:
Life, Love & Spain by Lori Tharps.

Favorite movie: Dirty Dancing Havana Nights

Favorite music: I like all music. I play violin and so my genres of music are broad. I can take heed to a imply Tchaikovsky or some Dvořák, but I might also take heed to musicals or Cardi B.

Favorite food: Tamales

Guilty pleasure: Rom-Coms

Favorite method to spend
free time: I’m an extrovert so it’s either speaking with my buddies or
actually on the telephone with whichever member of the family picks up.  

About the author