This June 19, as we recognize World Sickle Cell Day, we also honor the individuals and families that triumph over the disease on a daily basis and the communities like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that are committed to understanding and treating sickle cell. Here’s the powerful story of Audrey and her daughter Courtney: 

During the pregnancy process, most parents have thoughts like “Will they have my eyes?” For Audrey, however, entering motherhood left her with worries about something not as visible as eye color. She wondered whether her unborn child would inherit something that had already impacted her family: sickle cell anemia.

Just six months into her pregnancy, Audrey would find her greatest fear confirmed. Her daughter Courtney would indeed be born with sickle cell disease — something that had already claimed a nephew — leaving Audrey both fearful and weary of what lay ahead. 

One out of every 12 Black people in the United States has the sickle cell trait, with a chance of having a child with sickle cell disease if both parents carry the trait. This is one reason Audrey advocated for the test prior to Courtney’s birth. 

Confirmation came with a new sense of purpose, as the mother and daughter duo eventually found their way to the doors of St. Jude. With a mission to ensure that “no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay,” the Memphis-based research hospital quickly embraced Courtney and enabled her to thrive. 

“I tell people I thank God, and I thank St. Jude second-most, for, really, all aspects of her life,” Audrey says. For Courtney, St. Jude has offered more than just invaluable resources; it's enabled her to transform from a shy girl to a tenacious young woman. 

Something she shares with a laugh while explaining, “One day, somebody at ALSAC (the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude) handed me a microphone, and apparently they couldn’t get it away ever since.” 

Photo Credit: St. Jude

Despite facing an often debilitating disease — most notably because of its signature joint pain — over the years, St. Jude has helped empower Courtney to push forward. Guided by an unshakable thirst for life, the child Audrey once feared “would never read” would later become an Ivy League student, following an acceptance to the prestigious Cornell University. 

Even as her mother worried how Courtney would adapt to the transition, including whether the brutally cold New York winters might cause complications, St. Jude was one step ahead. Audrey’s fears caused her to think, “Here we go. St. Jude has always provided my solution to every problem in my life. They’re going to sit this child down and tell her she should not be going off to this cold-weather world.”

Instead, the research hospital displayed the same empathy that had first drawn the mother and daughter years ago. The medical staff responded, “Oh, my God, Courtney’s going to Cornell! Oh, we’re so proud of you! We’re going to take care of you. You’ll be fine.”

Even after all these years, when it comes to her fight against sickle cell, Courtney can rest assured that St. Jude will always be in her corner. 


Illness doesn’t discriminate. You can support St. Jude families, like Courtney’s, on World Sickle Cell Day and every day. Donate here.

This editorial is brought to you in partnership with St. Jude.