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A Kitsap County family is on a mission to raise awareness about Sickle Cell Anemia, a debilitating disease that affects approximately 100,000 people in the U.S., according to the Centers For Disease Control.
But to 14-year-old Craig Randle Junior, it's much more than a statistic. For Randle and his entire family, sickle cell has been personal and painful.
'It's like somebody is stabbing you and it's a sharp pain, and what it's like to live with it every day is not fun, because every time you wake up in the morning, you hurt really bad," said Craig.
Craig was just three months old when he was hospitalized for the first time due to sickle cell.
'I remember not understanding why my baby was crying and in so much pain," said Craig's mother, Mamie Randle.
Sickle cell is a blood disorder in which the red blood cells can take on a curved shape, like a sickle. Though they are small, the sickle cells can keep blood from flowing well and cause pain and other damage.
Craig's pain only got worse as he got older.
The agony he experienced, often triggered by changes in temperature, kept him from being able to participate in sports and many of the other activities a typical teen might enjoy.
He spent most of 2015 in the hospital in Seattle. That's when doctors at Seattle Children's started looking into the possibility of a bone marrow transplant that could give Craig the cure he needed.
Typically, the best bone marrow donor is a brother or sister. For the transplant to work, the bone marrow much be a close match.
"I have six kids, so I asked the doctor, what if we have two or three matches in our family?" Mamie recalled. "They all wanted to be the match because sickle cell is hard. It affects the whole family. The whole family."
She prayed about it constantly, as the entire family went through the tests needed to determine if they were a match. It was November 2015, right around Thanksgiving, when the Randle family got the call.
"Not only did we have a match, we had a perfect match," said Mamie.
Craig's bone marrow match was his 11-year-old sister, Sophia.
"I wanted to be the bone marrow person really bad. So I could help my brother," said Sophia Randle. "I call him my blood twin."
In Spring 2016, after Craig had undergone nine days of chemotherapy to ready his immune system, 'Day Zero' arrived on May 4.
Doctors removed bone marrow from Sophia's hip. Then, it was delivered to Craig's room at Seattle Children's. Sophia's healthy bone marrow was administered to her brother through an IV.
For the next six months, Mamie and Craig lived at the Ronald McDonald house in Seattle, close to the hospital in case complications developed.
But slowly, Craig started getting stronger.
"His doctors had a plan, and it wasn't just relieving pain, it was curing sickle cell. That's amazing. It's amazing. It's a blessing," said Mamie, wiping away tears.
The intense pain that Craig used to live with is slowly fading away. The family celebrated a big milestone a few weeks ago, when he was able to join his siblings as they played in the snow. It's an activity that a few months ago, would've likely resulted in a trip to the emergency room.
"I'm really happy that I don't have to wake up in pain anymore," said Craig.
He still takes several dozen medications a day and is being closely observed by doctors, but the family believes he's well on his way to being cured.
"We have a miracle," said his mother. "We have a strategy for healing."
Now, they gladly share their story, in hopes of raising awareness about sickle cell. They also hope to draw attention to the medical care he received and ultimately the bone marrow transplant that had such a profound impact on Craig's quality of life.
Craig has a message to others battling sickle cell - especially other children.
"Keeping fighting," he said. "You've got to keep hoping that God will heal you."
The family also gives credit to Craig's school, their church, and the entire Kitsap County community for the outpouring of support during the many months that Craig was sick.
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