MINNETONKA, Minn. (WCCO) — It’s a disease that affects African American children in the Twin Cities and beyond — a disease that Children’s Minnesota is working hard to combat.

The hospital is specializing in caring for kids with sickle cell disease.

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Raelen Crist and Kimberly Shoemate of Minnetonka are a power duo. They’ve been conquering challenges since the day Raelen was born.

(credit: CBS)

“My heart sinked. I can remember the day and I was just like, what am I gonna do, how am I going to protect her?” Shoemate said.

Raelen was diagnosed with sickle cell disease, a subject she’s now an expert on.

“My blood is not like your blood,” she said. “Everybody else’s cells, they are round, while mine are crescent shaped.”

Her crescent or sickle shaped cells cause chronic and severe body pain. Raelen’s worst episode was in seventh grade.

“Walking down the hallways, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, ankles, all pain,” Raelen said.

“Hearing my daughter scream, and morphine wasn’t helping,” Shoemate said.

They sought care at Children’s Minnesota. The hospital specialized in caring for children with sickle cell — a hereditary disease that affects 1 in 400 African American children born in the U.S. each year.

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“Sickle cell disease is a very, very complex disease. It requires a team approach,” Dr. Derrick L. Goubeaux said. “It takes a village to care for these children.”

So Children’s creates that village. Sickle cell patients get a team of caregivers, from pulmonologists to social workers — and sometimes a masseuse — who can help fight pain attacks.

“I feel validated because they truly understand it or they actually try to understand it and not push me to the side,” Raelen said.

“They need someone that’s devoted to them and their disease and that’s what really drove me to do what I do and to lead this team here at Children’s Minnesota,” Goubeaux said.

“I love Children’s. I am gonna be so sad the day that I have my last appointment,” Raelen said.

And Raelen has gotten the care she needs. She is 16 and thriving, and thanks to Children’s — even though her past was painful — she can take comfort in her future.

Any amount you can give will be put to good use.

Children’s Minnesota doesn’t turn away patients. Donations make that possible, helping to pay for patients who can’t.

They also help with support services like counseling, tech support and pet therapy.

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To give, you can text “MN Brighter” to 50155 or just head to wcco.com/brighter.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield