Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

“I See Me” Story Club Empowers Sickle Cell Patients

Determined to make patients with sickle cell disease and their families feel more comfortable during inpatient stays and clinic appointments at Connecticut Children’s, Kelly Ha, LMSW, a member of Connecticut Children’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Board, turned a creative idea into reality in launching the “I See Me” Story Club in September in honor of Sickle Cell Awareness Month.

Ha works in Connecticut Children’s Hematology/Oncology Division with patients who have sickle cell disease, a condition that affects people of African descent to a greater degree than other races or ethnicities. The division’s comprehensive sickle cell program provides state of the art care that results in patients living healthier than ever before due to the available therapies. The division’s one team approach addresses all aspects of living with the illness.

Kelly Ha, LMSW, with the “I See Me” Story Cart

Ha leveraged her purpose as a social worker and her passion for DEI, advocacy and anti-racism work in creating the “I See Me” Story Club, which provides sickle cell patients with age appropriate books featuring characters who look like them.

“As a BIPOC woman, I never saw myself in books growing up so I wanted that to be different for our patients as it is so meaningful and has a big impact on identity formation,” said Ha. “The goal is to provide a book to each patient during their clinic appointments and hospital admissions as a means of distraction that promotes literacy, bonding, and empowerment.”

Ha developed every part of the project – from creating goals, to selecting the books, to building the cart to carry the books. However, what she most enjoys is the reaction she gets from patients as she brings the cart to them to select a book.

“One of my patients, a 16-year-old sickle cell disease patient, said to me that she never sees herself on book covers, especially while she was going through elementary and middle school,” said Ha. “She spent a good chunk of time looking through the books and scheming which book she is going to take next from the cart. Her excitement would have made you think she was in a candy store or on a shopping spree at Forever 21!”

The “I See Me” Story Club is supported entirely by donations.

“One of our patients was hospitalized and clearly needed a distraction from her sickle cell-related symptoms,” said Ha. “I was able to bring my cart. Seeing her eyes light up after finding a novel about body empowerment and self-love with a dark skinned women on the cover confirms the reason we created this initiative in the first place. Something as small as a book can make such a huge impact on our patients’ empowerment.”

Popular “I See Me” Story Club Books:

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

Excuse Me While I Ugly Cry by Joya Goffney

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

I Am Enough by Grace Byers

Hair Like Mine by LaTashia M. Perry

Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor

All Because You Matter by Tami Charles

Learn more about Connecticut Children’s Center for Cancer & Blood Disorders.

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