Marqus Valentine, Co-Founder
Marqus Valentine is a Co-Founder of Sick Cells. Diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, Hgb ss at 6 months old, he has had a tough time managing the disease. As a child, he spent countless weeks hospitalized. He repeated grades because he missed so much school and was even granted a trip to Disney World by Children’s Hopes and Dreams because he was given a life expectancy of 10 years old.
As most people with SCD do, Marqus persevered. He started chronic blood transfusions at a young age and resumed a childhood outside of the hospital. His parents worked tirelessly to ensure he could participate in activities despite sickle cell. When he wanted to swim, they bought him a wet suit so the water wouldn’t put him in crisis. When he had to get nightly infusion treatments to prevent iron overload, they turned the needle sticking process into a family game.
Marqus never let sickle cell get in the way of his dreams of making films and graphic novels. While pursuing a film degree at a community college, Marqus discovered that he could reach a wider audience to educate about his condition through film, storytelling, and openly sharing his life with sickle cell disease. He put his degree on hold due to SCD complications. Along with working on Sick Cells, he is working on a graphic novel called Union. He spends a great amount of time being imaginative with his nephew, Kaleb, and strives to use this imagination to advocate for SCD.
Ashley Valentine, Co-Founder
Ashley is a Co-Founder of Sick Cells and the youngest sibling of her family. Her older brother and Co-Founder of Sick Cells, Marqus Valentine, has sickle cell anemia, Hgb ss. Growing up, Ashley spent much of her childhood charming hospital playroom attendants while Marqus was frequently hospitalized for pain crises, fever, and multiple complications from SCD.
While in high school, Ashley first understood the disparities for SCD when her brother developed seizures and as a result, lost his motor skills. The family’s insurance would not cover Marqus’ rehabilitation, because sickle cell is an unknown chronic disease. The insurance company told the Valentine family that Marqus was considered “not disabled enough” for medical help. Ashley and the family worked together to rehab Marqus at home. They taught him how to hold a fork again and redeveloped his ability to speak, leading to a successful recovery. This event solidified the drive in Ashley to educate others about SCD and advocate on behalf of her family and the sickle cell community.
As an adult, Ashley completed her Master’s in Research Methods from the University Of Aberdeen, Scotland. She focused on disparities in healthcare for people with SCD in London. After graduate school, she worked with University of Illinois in Chicago’s sickle cell program and later transitioned into policy work in Washington, DC. While working as a policy researcher, Ashley successfully wrote sickle cell disease into part of an $8 million Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) funding opportunity to address disparities for adults in the emergency department.
Ashley currently splits her time between working as a sickle cell clinical researcher and building the Sick Cells organization.
The Inspiration: The Valentine Family
The Valentines are a family of five. Fran Valentine, the mother, is a experienced nurse and an advocate for Marqus and SCD. She focuses on solving life's issues, ranging from if her daughter arrived on time to music lessons to solving severe complications of sickle cell, like Marqus’ silent strokes. Angelo Valentine, the father, is the rib-cooking connoisseur and the life support of the family. He excels at comic relief and ensuring the family gets their basic necessities, like clean laundry, home-cooked meals, music lessons, and bear hugs when times get tough. Ashley is youngest sibling of the family who tries to incorporate community service and sickle cell into every aspect of her life. Kevin Valentine is the oldest sibling, who navigates SCD with music. Kaleb, is Marqus' nephew, who spends countless hours exercising his imagination with his Uncle Marqus. He also is Marqus' number 1 visitor when Marqus is hospitalized.
The Valentines use their love for each other and their enthusiasm for life to spread awareness about sickle cell disease.
Francesca Valentine is a nurse, the clinical adviser for Sick Cells, and a carrier of sickle cell trait. Fran received her diploma in nursing in 1982. She continued her education years later to receive her bachelor in nursing in 1992. She has dedicated her life to ensuring quality care for veterans and their families.
She had her first experience with SCD when Marqus was six months old. Marqus was not screened at birth, so Fran was unaware of his condition until he had his first major crisis. She recalls her beautiful infant son losing his entire blood volume into his spleen and spending nearly two months in the hospital. Fran remembered that Marqus used his feet to play with his toys because his hands and arms were in too much pain to use. If he couldn’t walk, he would roll across the floor to keep up with his older brother.
Fran is a fierce advocate for Marqus and other children with SCD who have crossed her path. Based on her experiences with frequent hospitalizations and an uphill battle for Marqus’ life, Fran went on to complete a Master’s in Nursing Science. She designed a teaching simulation of a sickle cell crisis in order to train upcoming nurses on how to care for the SCD population.
Angelo Valentine, is a Union Electrician, the comic relief for Sick Cells, and a sickle cell trait carrier. He is often known as Uncle Dude and the "laughs guy" for the Valentine family. Angelo was screened for sickle cell trait before having children. He was told that he was not a carrier. When Fran was pregnant with Marqus, Angelo learned he had sickle cell trait through blood work prior to a dental procedure.
When raising his young family, Angelo spent long periods unemployed as a result of missed work related to Marqus' hospitalizations. During unemployment, Angelo worked as a teammate to Fran while raising a family afflicted by SCD. During the 80’s, having a stay-at-home father was not common, however, Angelo took to the role as a way to step in where his wife could not. Because Fran spent a great deal of time in the hospital with Marqus, Angelo maintained the household and even learned some difficult tasks, like braiding Ashley's hair for her first day of school.
Kevin Valentine is a dynamic music composer. Kevin understood at a young age how SCD caused emotional, financial, and physical pain on the family. Kevin used music as an outlet when dealing with his brother’s illness.
Currently, Kevin DJs in Europe and composes electronic music, tying together formal musical training with the various sounds that he hears throughout his life.