After her grandson was diagnosed at birth with Isolaveric Acidemia, a rare genetic disorder, Harris joined Washington State’s Newborn Screening Advisory Committee, a committee that advocates for certain tests performed at birth to detect treatable genetic diseases.
“At that time my grandson’s disorder was not tested for in Washington State, so I became very active in that committee,” Harris said.
Through the committee she began volunteering for the Metropolitan Seattle Sickle Cell Taskforce, which raises awareness for a disease her grandson also has.
“We’ve been working on getting awareness out on sickle cell,” Harris said.
Sickle cell disease is the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States, affecting 70,000 to 80,000 Americans. The disease is estimated to occur in 1 in 500 African Americans and 1 in 1,000 to 1,400 Hispanic Americans. It affects millions of people worldwide. Sickle cell anemia is most common among people whose ancestors come from Africa; Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Turkey, and Italy; the Arabian Peninsula; India; and Spanish-speaking regions in South America, Central America, and parts of the Caribbean.
The MSSCTF primarily provides support for families and individuals that have sickle cell disease in the Seattle area. The task force works in partnership with schools, institutions and health care providers to help support and enhance the overall well-being of those affected with sickle cell disease and their families.
“We have several fundraisers as well,” Harris said. “Our major fundraiser is an annual Sickle Cell Walk that takes place every September.” The Walk helps to fund a three-day, overnight summer camp for children and siblings with Sickle Cell.
Harris said her co-workers at King County are always supportive of her volunteering. Recently the Sickle Cell advisory committee helped put on a King County Lunch and Learn called, “Faces of Sickle Cell” that focused on the living with chronic illnesses. A video of the event is available to watch here.
Oftentimes, Harris goes directly from her job as a Transit Data Administrator for the Department of Transportation to volunteering.
“It’s a separate life I guess. I leave tonight and I go off to a meeting to finalize our Annual Sickle Cell Walk,” Harris said.
Volunteering has helped her raise awareness about many other hardships in life that many experience, Harris said it has helped with biases that are expressed in the workplace when one is experiencing stressful times in life that may be driven by chronic health conditions or other stressful times in life.
“You never know what a person’s going through, so it has really changed my perspective and I’ve been more supportive in the workplace,” Harris said.