Terrell Starks held fiercely to life until the end, savoring his last moments with family as sickle cell disease took its final toll.
Terrell passed away this morning, just a few days after his 24th birthday and just five years after his sister, Dominique, lost her life to the same inherited blood disorder. Sickle cell disease kills and disables African Americans by the thousands and currently affects more than 1,700 people in Kentucky and Indiana.
Terrell and his parents, Carl and Valicia, wanted to share their story with the community to raise awareness of the heartbreaking toll of the disease. Their story achieved that purpose, and ultimately revealed more about living than dying – how to push through pain for the joy life gives, fill each moment to the brim and cherish family.
In his last week, Terrell spent every moment with his parents, his older brother Cortez and other family and friends who came from Michigan and elsewhere. They gathered in the bedroom that had become his world, talking to him and telling him they loved him whenever he woke from a fitful sleep marked by shaking, spasms and fever. Days before his death, he was able to watch "The Blind Side" with his family, see roses the hospice team sent for his birthday and take a few bites of food.
Many times over those days, I heard him tell Valicia and Carl that he loved them.
Pain was a constant in his life, since childhood, and he always persisted through it. Even when it became excruciating, he resisted taking too much sedating pain medication so that he could be present for his family.
Now, finally, his pain is over.
(Photo: Terrell Starks, left, clings to life last week as his mom Valicia looks on and his dad Carl, right, caresses his hand at their Shively home. Terrell suffers from sickle cell disease and his condition has been deteriorating for months. By Sam Upshaw Jr., The Courier-Journal, May 20, 2010)