There is no hill or mountain that you can’t climb.
With those words repeatedly uttered by her grandmother, Pauline Lambert was ready to face any challenge when she left Spring Gardens in Jamaica in 1964 to join her parents in England.
Completing high school and her first level nursing certification, she came to Canada in 1973 and spent four years in Montreal before heading to Toronto, where she secured a nursing diploma from George Brown College and an undergraduate degree.
For the past 31 years, Lambert has been a registered nurse at the University Health Network.
She was among several health professionals, volunteers and young people honoured at the Sickle Cell Awareness Group of Ontario’s (SCAGO) annual celebration last Saturday night.
Lambert has been a sickle cell volunteer and advocate for nearly two decades.
“My grandmother’s words have always stayed with me and I have used them to motivate me to do things to help others,” said the Nursing Award of Excellence recipient. “Finding ways to contribute directly to improved health access and care for those living with sickle cell is something that I am passionate about.”
Heather Gordon was recognized with the Allied Health Professional Award of Excellence.
Migrating with her siblings from Jamaica in 1969 to join their mother in the Greater Toronto Area, Gordon completed high school at Central Peel Secondary School and her social work undergraduate and Master’s degrees at Carleton University and York University, respectively.
Four years ago while attending a First Fridays event, she met Lanre Tunji-Ajayi, who set up the Seed of Life philanthropic organization in June 2005 that morphed into the SCAGO to raise awareness about the hereditary blood disorder that affects mostly people of colour.
“I was very impressed with Lanre’s inspiring presentation and the kind of work her organization is doing,” said Gordon. “At first, I was hesitant to volunteer for the organization because I had a lot on my plate, but her persistence along with that of the organization’s president Doreen Alexander paid off.”
Gordon helped the SCAGO organize a sickle cell conference at Toronto General Hospital (TGH) where she was hired shortly afterwards as a social worker.
“In addition to my daily duties at the hospital, I include patient’s stories in the Red Blood Cell Disorders Program quarterly magazine to reinforce peer motivation and support,” said Gordon, who sits on the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Canada education committee and recently engaged 10 sickle cell patients in a seven-month leadership program to enable them to become partners in their care at TGH.
Dr. Peter Azzopardi, the chief of paediatrics at Scarborough Hospital, was presented with the Medical Award of Excellence; Hala Nassar was honoured with the Volunteer Award of Excellence and Rhema Christian Ministries of Canada founder, Orim Meikle, was recognized with the Community Award of Excellence.
Rhema has partnered with Canadian Blood Services to organize blood donor drives and stem cell initiatives for members of the Black community.
Sickle cell disease is a life-threatening and hereditary blood disorder that causes malformation of red blood cells that become distorted when they transmit oxygen through the body, while thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder in which the body is unable to process normal functioning haemoglobin.
Devastated by the loss of her Nigerian-based brother Sunday Afolabi to the disease in 1999, Tunji-Ajayi started a scholarship program to perpetuate his legacy and help sickle cell students pursue post-secondary education.
This year’s recipient is Riverdale Collegiate Institute Grade 12 student, Sadiyah Shaikh, who has sickle beta thalassemia.
“This scholarship will allow me to enter a program that will set me on a career path that will let me maximize my potential and make a significant contribution to society,” said Shaikh, who is enrolled in Seneca College’s opticianry program.
Olivia Shiwoku Memorial bursaries were also presented to Philip Alafe and Jessica Amoako. A Humber College honours graduate, Shiwoku succumbed to sickle cell disease complications in September 2010 at age 29.
A new immigrant, Alafe was unable to attend the event because of illness, while Amoako is enrolled in York University’s health & society program.
Precious Abbey was the recipient of the Dotty Nicholas sickle cell scholarship launched last year.
Born in Ghana in 1991, Abbey – a sickle cell sufferer – is enrolled at the University of Manitoba.
Tunji-Ajayi spearheaded the launch of a campaign to create a comprehensive adult thalassemia and sickle cell disease program in the Greater Toronto Area that is adequately resourced to provide appropriate clinical staffing and access to supportive care.