Demetrius Sellers knows firsthand what it's like growing up with a blood disorder marked by joint pain, dizziness, shortness of breath and yellowing of the eyes. Now, the Santee artist is sharing a message of hope based on his own remarkable survival.
The 26-year-old Lake Marion High School graduate was a frequent visitor at the Sickle Cell Center at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston as a child. He recalls the fears that came with those doctors' visits.
Sellers, who is enjoying a relatively pain-free life now without medication and realizes he is blessed, said he never stopped wanting to do something to soothe the anxieties and fears of other youngsters who walk through those clinic doors.
He has donated an acrylic painting, titled “Walking with Courage,” to the Sickle Cell Center, which will be displayed in the facility to make children smile and give them some semblance of relief.
“I got the inspiration for the painting from just being a child. We all can relate to going to the doctor's office or the hospital. It's kind of a nervous, overwhelming feeling. You're a little bit scared, and the kids with sickle cell anemia are probably at the hospital often. They could be afraid of needles or just worry about what's going to happen,” Sellers said.
The painting is of a little girl who is with a lion and a tiger, animals that both represent courage, he said.
“I have the little girl in the middle walking with them with a smile on her face. She’s showing bravery and that she’s not afraid. She’s happy and confident. The butterflies at the top symbolize hope and change for a new day -- maybe a cure for the disease,” Sellers said.
The artist hopes the painting’s color-friendly yellow background will get kids to respond to it even more and give them something to look forward to during their visits to the doctor.
Dr. Julie Kanter-Washko, director of the MUSC Sickle Cell Center, said, “The painting is amazing and will inspire hope in all who have the opportunity to see it. We are so grateful to Demetrius for painting it for us and continuing to put his faith in our care.”
Sellers said he was more than happy to offer children a feeling of hope and courage.
“It was just me wanting to do something special for the kids because Sickle Cell Awareness Month is in September. And I was like, 'Wow, what better way to kick off sickle cell awareness than to do a piece that could bring a bunch of attention to the community and further the awareness and knowledge of sickle cell anemia?'” he said.
He added that sickle cell anemia and lupus are particularly common among the African-American community and “not everybody is that knowledgeable of it.”
“So I think the more that we know about, the more that we could take care of our families and the people we love that's suffering from it,” Sellers said.
He said he has developed a very good relationship with the doctors at the Sickle Cell Center, where he said he received the care he needed to survive.
"Well, I’m actually a sickle cell patient. I used to go there a lot when I was younger. I'm pretty healthy now and I don't go there as often, but my experience led me to relate to the young patients because I was that age coming through. I was feeling some type of way about the doctor visits,” Sellers said.
“Coming up, it was hard, but my mother and the awesome doctors at MUSC kept me healthy to where I now live a normal life. That’s basically what I want to spread to people, the message that if you’re knowledgeable about it, there’s ways you can cope with it and live a normal life," he said.
“To be honest, I haven’t had a (sickle cell) crisis since I was 6 years old. I’m not on any medicine. Every once in a while I go to the doctor and do the checkup, get treatment or whatever, but sickle cell has impacted my life because I saw family members and my classmates die from it."
Sellers said the painting represents his feeling of wanting to give back and realizing how blessed he is to be as healthy as he is.
“I'm very blessed, and that's why being able to do this picture was such a big thing for me. I'm one of the few that is able to do something and make a change in a small way," he said. "And with … the help of MUSC letting me display my art, this probably could reach 1,000 or a million people who need help."
Sellers said everything he does comes from a place of genuineness that does not involve a lot of self-aggrandizement or recognition.
“I don't expect to get any personal attention. I actually shy away from attention. I think that's why I'm an artist,” he said, noting that he is happy to have his artwork displayed as an inspiration to others.
“I feel very happy. I like to inspire people -- the little kids. I'm really such a guy that loves to help little kids find their way in life and show them that anything is possible with effort," Sellers said. "It gives me a happy feeling that MUSC would share my art in their facility. It's very humbling."