sickle_cell_run_web_fc.jpgLeola Lacey made it a point to represent her two children in the sickle cell 5k walk/run held annually to raise awareness of the illness and boost funding for research.

This year, Lacey, 57, of Miami, a cafeteria worker at Miami Central High School, didn’t make it to the event. Her son, Antuan P. Lacey, 27, died in August from the painful and sometimes fatal blood disease.

Lacey said that she, as well as her late husband, has the sickle cell trait, a benign form of the ailment. Her daughter, Kaim Lacey, 33, is living with the illness.

Sickle Cell disease is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. Normal red blood cells are round like doughnuts, and move through small blood tubes in the body to deliver oxygen. Sickle red blood cells become hard, sticky and shaped like sickles used to cut wheat.  When hard and pointed red cells pass through the small blood tube, it will clog the artery and break apart.

This can cause a sickler pain, damage and a low blood count or anemia, said Dr. Astrid Mack, executive director of the Miami-Dade County Chapter of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America and retired associate dean at the University Of Miami Miller School Of Medicine.

Sickle cell affects people of many nationalities, including African Americans, Arabs, Greeks, Italians, Latin Americans and Indians.

The chapter keeps the illness in the minds of Miami-Dade residents through its annual Sickle Cell 2010 5k Walk/Run, an event focusing on improving the quality of life for people with sickle cell disease and related illnesses.

The 31st edition took place on Sept. 11 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, presented in cooperation with the Miami Dolphins, 100 Black Men of South Florida and the city of Miami Gardens.

It attracted about 700 walkers and runners, Mack said, and raised about $17,300, which could go higher after pledges and other donations are made.

The money, Mack said, will be used to assist families and individuals affected by the disease by offsetting some of their medical and household expenses, with some going to research for a cure.

Trish Butler, 47, of Coral Springs and Ronnie Holaisse, 39, of Miramar were the overall race winners. Each was awarded $250.

Hallandale High School won the battle of the high school drum line, part of the event, and its $1,000 prize.

Lacey hopes the funds raised by the event will help find a cure. She knows how much her children have suffered from the disease.

“At the beginning, it wasn’t too bad,” she said. “They went to school like other kids and were able to handle it, my daughter more so than my son.”

Antuan, who, she said, was diagnosed with sickle cell while a fetus, was unable to play sports. “Their bodies can’t take the heat like other people,” she said.

Kaim was diagnosed at 8 months and at age 22, she suffered a stroke.

“I was in college and doing fine,” she said. “The next day, everything in my life came to a standstill. There was no warning. It just happened and I had to deal with it.”

But not all sicklers suffer strokes, Kaim Lacey said. Everyone’s case is different.

“We just need to do more,” Leola Lacey said. “Educating people will really help, although my biggest hope is for a cure.”

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Cynthia Roby may be reached at