Health Hero: Teen With Sickle Cell Dreams of Finding a Cure

With the help an academic program, Michael Olujimi could one day eradicate this disease. 

Posted: 06/24/2013 10:44 AM EDT

D.C. native Michael Olujimi has gone through more health scares at 17 than most adults do in an entire lifetime. The Banneker Senior High School junior has suffered from liver and kidney issues, received numerous blood transfusions and even had heart surgery in 2009.

The culprit?

Sickle cell, an inherited blood disorder that affects 1 in 400 Black newborns.

Yet somehow Olujimi hasn’t allowed his health to stand in the way of achieving his dreams, especially when it comes to raising awareness about this disease. Not only does he serve as a spokesperson for the Children’s National Medical Center, speaking on behalf of other kids with sickle cell, but he’s also clear that one day he will cure the disease.

And anything is possible, especially given that his dream is supported by the D.C. Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) Scholars Program, which offers free early college exposure (at Ivy League and top-tier universities) to high-achieving, low-income public and charter school students in the District.

Out of 200-plus applicants, Olujimi was one of nearly 50 participants who will be going off to a six-week program at colleges across the country. Olujumi, a future scientist and hematologist, will take science classes at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Melissa McKnight, the Director of OSSE’s College and Career Readiness program told BET.com that Olujumi stood out from the beginning. “We were looking for students with hunger and Michael was so incredibly confident and [could] clearly explain to us the type of path that he was on.”

BET.com sat down with Olujimi to talk about what it’s been like to live with sickle cell, his passion for science and why finding a cure for sickle cell disorder is his dream.

Why made you want you to go into the sciences?

It’s really the only thing that I have ever wanted to do. What I like about science is that you can do what you want, explore the things you like. And for me, finding a cure is my goal. I have sickle cell and I have seen the pain that I have gone through and I don’t want another child to have go through the same.

What has living with sickle cell been like for you?

I’ve had sickle cell since I was a baby and I have had all kinds of health issues, but I feel so much better now. Yes, I take a lot of medicines for my sickle cell, kidney and liver problems, but it’s been two years since I have had to be hospitalized. I take my meds, eat healthy, stay active and listen to what my doctors tell me.

How has OSSE helped you get on the right track to achieve your dreams?

I will have this opportunity that will help pursue my career choice. I am going to be taking a Bio Nature Lab and IT class. And having this background is really going to help me because it’s a challenge, plus I am getting college credit for it, which saves me money.  

What’s your advice for other students who have a lofty dream like yours?

To always aspire to do your best. I look at all of my struggles, but because of my faith in God and my family’s love, I have been able to achieve the things that I need to. So I say be involved and strive for the best and you can achieve anything.

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(Photo: Courtesy of Michael Olujimi)

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