Lifelong sickle cell patient gets relief with laughter

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Laughter is often said to be the best medicine. For Benjamin Clark, a 25-year-old local resident with sickle cell disease, comedian Tony Roberts has been the prescription that he has needed.

“Benjamin’s favorite comedian is Tony Roberts and in July, I surprised him and took him to the Improv in Washington, D.C., to see Tony Roberts and the great thing is that after the show he was able to talk with him,” said Deborah Clark, Benjamin’s mother and caregiver.

It wasn’t the first time that Benjamin met the comedian, who has proven to be one of several sources of encouragement to the man who aspires to dance with Ellen DeGeneres.

Clark has been hospitalized 156 times and has undergone 84 blood transfusions because of his lifelong fight with sickle cell disease.

“Tony Roberts and his wife have kept in touch, they gave us their personal information,” his mother said. “I even sent a picture after one of his hospital stays and Tony called Benjamin. They’ve been great.”

Sickle cell disease (SCD) affects approximately 100,000 Americans and occurs in about one of every 365 African-American births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. SCD occurs in about one of every 16,300 Hispanic-American births and about one in 13 African-American babies are born with the sickle cell trait.

Benjamin was born with the disease and has been battling the illness ever since.

“I love my mom dearly because she’s always there for me and she’s been so strong throughout,” Clark said. “She’s funny as well, so that helps.”

Among the many procedures Clark has undergone lately are exchange transfusions, medical procedures in which a patient’s blood is removed and replaced with plasma or donor blood. This is done via a catheter, according to the medical website healthline.com.

The procedure is used to save the life of an adult or child with life threatening blood abnormalities. An exchange transfusion reverses or counteracts the symptoms of jaundice or other blood diseases such as sickle cell anemia.

During Clark’s procedure, eight units of sickle shaped blood cells were removed from his body and replaced with eight units of fresh blood, his mother said.

“My son is a real fighter,” said Deborah Clark, who has four other children and works as a receptionist and technician. Clark has even kept busy writing a book about her son.

The Clarks have maintained their confidence that Benjamin will not only conquer his illness but will thrive.

They say they’ve been helped by individuals such as Roberts, Solid Rock Baptist Church Pastor Mary Saunders; Bishop Orlando Nesby; Patricia Cook, their family and Deborah’s godbrother Jeff.

“I called Jeff one day during a blizzard when Benjamin was sick because we didn’t have a way to get to the emergency room and Jeff drove out in the bad weather to take us,” Clark said. “We’ve been blessed with the support we’ve gotten.”

Benjamin watches Roberts’ comedy routine regularly on YouTube, as well as “Dancing with the Stars,” and “So You Think You Can Dance.” An accomplished dancer himself, he hopes to one day get the attention of comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, a fellow dance aficionado.

“I’d love to dance with her on her show,” Clark said. “That would be the ultimate.”

For now, he just watches Ellen and Roberts, laughing and doing whatever he can to overcome the chronic pain that the disease brings.

“Watching Ellen and listening to Tony Roberts really helps,” he said. “They take me to a good place. It’s like my advice to others in this situation with chronic pain: try to do something you really like to take your mind off it. For me, it’s [Roberts and DeGeneres] and now that I’ve discovered that I can dance, that helps me a lot.”