As September marks “National Sickle Cell Awareness Month,” volunteers and benefactors, “Ambassadors for Hope” for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) hosted their 12th Annual Blue Tag Gala on Saturday Sept. 8 to support the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at CHOP.
The Blue Tag Gala, previously known as the Jazz Event, was held at the grand ballroom of the Hyatt at the Bellevue at 200 South Broad St. The fundraiser gala brought a large crowd for cocktails, dinner and dancing in support of the Sickle Cell Center. All proceeds from the event support children with sickle cell disease.
Guests mingled, dined, danced to a live performance and listened closely as the program proceeded. The Rev. Charles W. Quann, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, provided the invocation and guests were welcomed by CHOP’s CEO, Steven M. Altschuler M.D.
Masters of Ceremonies Joyce Evans, news anchor and reporter for WTXF’s Fox 29, and E. Seven Collins, director of urban marketing and external relations at Radio One Philadelphia, carried the program through.
Kwaku Ohene-Frempong, M.D., founder of the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center, is professor of pediatrics at CHOP and president of the Sickle Cell Foundation of Ghana. As a carrier of sickle cell himself, Dr. Ohene-Frempong is dedicated both to his work at CHOP and his home country, Ghana, where he conducts research and clinical support. He spoke to the room sharing his experiences both at CHOP and Ghana and the passion he has for his work.
Featured speaker, Kim Smith Whitley, M.D., the director of the Comprehensive Sickle Cell center and clinical director of the Division of Hematology of CHOP, shared what the impact of the disease has on a person’s life, the importance of blood donors and the progression of CHOP’s program. Early in her speech she noted, “Chop serves 1,100 children with sickle cell disease — when I came in 1992, we provided care for 325.”
“Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood condition, you’re born with it. We’ve come so far to improve the quality of life, but it’s still not enough,” she said. “They’re still unfortunately dying at early ages.”
Dr. Smith-Whitley, associate professor of Pediatrics, focuses her clinical and research on sickle cell survivorship.
Many guests wore the color blue, as it was encouraged, in honor of the “Blue Tag.” The “Blue Tag” is significant because when blood donors donate, they can ensure their donation goes to help patients with sickle cell, by asking for the “Blue Tag.” This will notify the American Red Cross the donation is specifically designated for sickle cell efforts.
When Nana Kwabena Tuffuor was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at two years old, his family moved to Bucks County from Cleveland, Ohio to be near the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center.
Tuffuor took a unique approach to his speech and asked the guests to do an “exercise.”
“I’m going to ask you guys to close your eyes for a minute and take a deep breath in,” he instructed the crowd. “With every breath you inhale becomes peace and tranquility, for every breath you exhale, stress and worry leaves our body.”
The exercise was aimed to have guests identify with how Tuffuor felt at his younger brother’s bedside, when he was dying from sickle cell disease. Tuffuor has been a patient at CHOP throughout his years, and both he and his brother suffered from sickle cell disease. He shared the strained relationship he had with his brother and how they made amends before he passed away. He also expressed the close relationship he had with the CHOP doctors and his positive experiences there.
Tuffuor, now living in New York City, uses his musical and artistic talent to spread awareness for sickle cell disease.
“I went to Penn as an undergrad pre-med, I’m not doing anything pre-med-related right now—one of my burning passions is music,” he said. “I’m a music producer and right now I’m working on John Legend’s album - but beyond that I look at myself as being an art activist—not art for art sake, art for a tangible change.”
Lynn Johnson-Porter, executive director of development for Clinical Support and Major Gifts of CHOP Foundation, felt this gala brewed a lot of enthusiasm.
“I think it was inspiring and enlightening,” she said. “It’s the largest audience ever and we’re looking to build on the enthusiasm.”