Parnel Abraham: President of the SCD support group of Atlanta, Board of Directors of Sickle Cell Disease Foundation of Georgia.
It is my pleasure to introduce Parnel Abraham, husband, father, advocate and leader in the sickle cell community. A sickle cell warrior with a passion for advocacy and education. His holistic approach to treated sickle cell has been adopted by many in and around Atlanta.
Thank you so very for agreeing to provide this interview Mr. Abraham. I am very excited to share your story and your advocacy efforts with the rest of the Warrior community.
How old where you when you found out you had sickle cell?
I was diagnosed at 6 months of age; however, my understanding on why I had pain didn’t develop until I was ten years old.
Ten seems like the perfect age to learn about sickle cell. Do you remember how it was explained to you?
My parents did a really great job of explaining sickle cell to me. They told me that I have a blood disorder and we discussed everything about this disease. We talked about exactly why I was having pain and they detailed everything I needed to know about blood circulation, inflammation and everything in between. At the end of our talk I understood exactly what was happening in my body and understood the risks as well as how to handle a crisis.
It sounds like they did a great job! How were you able to cope with school and sickle cell?
Growing up I didn’t have too many challenges with pain episodes and so dealing with school and sickness was not much an issue for me. The only adjustment that we had to make was that my parent had to submit a letter to my school instructing teachers not to allow me access to water at any time. Prior to that, I would need permission from the teachers to leave the class room to get a drink of water.
What do you do? What kind of experience and schooling is needed to obtain your job? Currently I wear many hats. I find it difficult to limit my areas of work. I’m employed with a health care facility in the areas of finance and risk management. I have a background in both medical management and financial services. My work is my passion. I’m improving the quality of life for others, not only of those affected with sickle cell disease, or any other medical condition that may impose limitations to their potential in life.
I am also a practitioner of holistic medicine. In connection with this I serve as President of the Sickle Cell Support Group in Atlanta, GA, member of the Board of Director for the Sickle Cell Foundation of Georgia and Acupuncture Detox Specialist. I am grateful for all of these opportunities to be of service to others. If one where to ask me what schooling is required to do my job I would say, a life time commitment to spiritual work. I consider my work an opportunity to serve and uplift humanity in order to edify our Creator.
Wow! You really do wear many hats. How did your childhood and your parents influence you in your choice of career?
My parents have always been supportive of any career path I chose. Academically, I was a great student. My parents were very supportive with my choice to deviate my studies from engineering to marketing and medicine.
Describe a typical day on your job.
A “typical” day for me varies greatly. I may be at work in the office dealing with financial reports, sitting with client to find the resources for a $250,000 oncology treatment with no health insurance, traveling for a conference or providing nutrition education. What matters is, at the end of the day, my goal is to have made a difference in someone’s life for the better.
How do you manage SCD and still maintain a thriving career?
My days are very long. I believe my strength comes from my time in prayer, balancing daily goals and not becoming consumed by them which adds stress. I also drink plenty of water and am careful to manage proper food intake.
Are you comfortable revealing your sickle cell diagnosis with your coworkers? Why or why not?
I’m very comfortable speaking to my co-workers about my diagnosis. Open communication is the only way to be a great advocate about the disease. People have to engage and identify with someone they know on a personal level in order for them to support the need for financial resources and to provide assistance for those who are not able to work or attend school.
I completely agree with you. Have you noticed a difference in how your coworkers treat you once they know you have SCD?
My co-workers do not treat me differently. Often they are all shocked that I have sickle cell disease since I’m always on the go.
How do you explain sickle cell to individuals who are unfamiliar with the disease?
For those who are not familiar with the condition, I explained the very basics as far cell structure change and the effect on the body with sickle cell.
What advice would you give a fellow Warrior wanting to join your profession?
My advice to a warrior on ANY path would be to develop a strong spiritual connection. I firmly believe that this is a prerequisite to all of life’s vocations. Learn to take care of yourself properly. You have to take care of yourself in order to be of assistance to others. Stay in faith, challenges will come, even when we are down, the only direction left is to go up. We all have to be tested before we can testify.
Has sickle cell limited any areas of your life?
Personally I feel sickle cell has not limited my life, rather has taught me how to live. I treasure the moments in life more. I have days when it hurts to breathe from chest pain, so I don’t take the simple breaths for granted. I have days when I am unable to walk so I enjoy a stroll in the mall or even taking the stairs instead of the elevator. This world can have us so consumed with so many distractions, the pain episode have a way to remind us all about balance and scaling things down.
When you reach obstacles in your life, what helps you through it?
Whenever obstacles come, prayer, meditation, fasting, motivational books are all my support systems to navigate through the storms.
Do you have regular pain (more than 2x a week)? How do you cope with this when you are working?
I do not have frequent pain episodes. When they do come. I resolve to rely upon my holistic modalities: rest, herbs and acupuncture. If the pain continue, or increases to a level beyond my control, only then will I seek medical attention, perhaps opioid intervention may be required at that point.
What is your daily medication regimen and what medications do you take when you are in pain?
Fortunately, I do not have a medication regiment. My routine consists of Folate and daily supplements of vitamins, minerals and digestive enzymes.
Will you explain a little more about this? I am interested in knowing more about the specific vitamins, minerals and digestive enzymes that you take and why.
My reason for implementing this routine of daily vitamins, minerals and digestive enzymes is to optimize my health by insuring that everything in my body stays in balance. I choose to take my vitamins and minerals in liquid form. I do this because the body absorbs it better in this form thereby increasing bioavailability of the supplements. The vitamins and minerals that I take are all natural, plant-derived supplements. I combine a liquid multi-vitamin with a liquid mineral supplement containing 60 trace minerals because I have learned that biologically vitamins are not fully effective unless taken in combination with minerals. I learned about the importance of introducing vitamins and minerals into my diet by a genetic counselor specializing in naturopathic medicine named Phil. Phil didn’t have sickle cell, but was a dedicated sickle cell advocate and passionate educator. It was through him that I first learned about bioavailability and the need to maintain a balance between vitamins and minerals. I have since continued my education through multiple other sources, where I have learned the importance of keeping the body in homeostasis, thereby protecting the immune system, which guards against interference with sickle cell disease.
I take digestive enzymes because I have learned that if my digestive system doesn’t function properly I become susceptible to illness. The digestive enzymes assist the gallbladder and liver, alleviating the need to produce excess enzymes, preventing these organs from being overworked. Experience has taught me that this combination of natural, plant-derived supplements is sufficient to maintain a greater level of health than what I experienced prior to starting this routine.
How has sickle cell affected your personal life?
The condition itself has not affected my personal life. I’m one that keeps to myself and prefers to observe from the back ground.
Are you married? Please tell us about your significant other. How has she helped you with sickle cell? How did your relationship evolve taking into account sickle cell? When did you tell her? I’m married. My wife has always been supportive of my condition. Prior to our marriage, we discussed sickle cell disease in detail in planning for the future and having children. She was tested for sickle trait prior to our getting married. I would say she was well informed of the condition, she is also a nurse and witnessed all of the challenges that my brother experienced with sickle cell disease as well.
Will you tell us a little more about your brother?
My brother has been my prime motivator for following this natural lifestyle that I have implemented in my life. Growing up I saw all that he went through with the disease and I felt like he shouldn’t have had to suffer as much as he has. His journey with sickle cell is what motivated me to learn more about natural methods of fighting this disease.
Do you have any other siblings? Are they Warriors as well?
We have one more older sister. She is a trait carrier.
Do you have children? How many? Are they Warriors as well?
My wife and I have one son together who is a trait carrier. We have made sure that he is well educated on what it means to have the trait.
How did you explain sickle cell to your son?
We explained our son’s trait status to him around the same age that it was explained to me. It was around that time that he began asking question. I do not get sick often and so when I did he had a lot of questions. We took that opportunity to explain sickle cell trait and disease to him. He wanted to know what was going on with me and if he had it also. We started his education with trait awareness. He also attends the sickle cell workshops with me. He also attends the sickle cell summer camp with me when I volunteer. We use these opportunities to expose him to the sickle cell community and enhance his awareness and education.
If you could have a conversation with your 14 year old self, what would you tell him?
Wow, if I could have the conversation with my 14 year old self, I would advise him to not be so shy. It’s OK to speak to people, they are paying attention, and yes at 14 you have a lot to offer to the world. It’s okay to leave the chips alone you will see the benefit from that (smile)…
Is there anything else that you would like to share with the sickle cell warrior community?
To the warrior community, I want to thank you for your time, it’s a great honor to be in your presence. Continue to reach out to each other, support one another, love each other.