Siblings Marqus and Ashley Valentine tell stories of those with sickle cell disease

LISLE, Ill. (WLS) -- For a young man from west suburban Lisle, blood donation keeps him alive.

When he was six months old, Marqus Valentine - now 35 - was diagnosed with sickle cell hemoglobin SS.

Now, he and his younger sister, Ashley Valentine, are advocates for those living with sickle cell disease. They do so by telling their stories of struggle and success as part of their Sick Cells nonprofit, which they started two years ago.

Sick Cells started as a documentary to tell Marqus' story. However, they realized that there were many types of stories that needed to be told.

"The goal is to tell stories for change. Try to take those stories of just the resilience and what people, and how the human spirit can live, and we tell this to decision makers," said Ashley Valentine, who now lives in Washington, D.C.

A part of that message is to keep promoting the importance of blood donation.

"By them giving blood, it's given my brother life, it's given my family an opportunity to live," she said. "Everyone is impacted by this disease. It's the most common blood disorder in the world."

Because there's no cure and very few treatments available, blood donation is so important for many people with sickle cell disease.

"Giving blood and being transfused, my entire life has been so vital and beneficial it has allowed me to keep my organs," Marqus Valentine said. He adds: "The people who have donated have given, as I said, given me more time with my family, not only me but thousands of others with sickle cell."

Diagnosed at a young age, he was in and out of the hospital.

"Sickle cell got scary for me when I was in high school, because I could understand that he might not come out of the hospital," Marqus Valentine said.

And his younger sister saw the impact of the disease first-hand.

Through it all, the Valentine family has been there for each other.

"Without them I don't think I would have made it this far. My family support is phenomenal," Marqus Valentine said.

For more information about Sick Cells, visit: https://www.sickcells.org/

ABC7's 5th annual Great Chicago Blood Drive will be held Jan. 16 at three locations: the Merchandise Mart, 222 West Merchandise Mart Plaza; the Drake Oak Brook Hotel, 2301 York Road, Oak Brook; and the CDW in Vernon Hills. Each location will be open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

To make an appointment for the blood drive, call 1-800-RED-CROSS.

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