Cleo Camphor

Cleo Camphor

When Cleo Camphor turned 70 in May 2019, it was somewhat of a miracle. When he was diagnosed with sickle cell disease in 1975, his doctor told him that he should have never lived past 20. 

Born in Mississippi, Camphor’s doctors in his home state couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him. It wasn’t until moving to Indianapolis in his 20s that he was properly diagnosed at the Martin Center. Now, Camphor is sharing his story of faith and survival in his book, “From Pain to Purpose.” 

“I want to be a blessing to other people,” Camphor said. “When you have sickle cell, you got to stay around positive people, be a positive force and find your spiritual side.”

Sickle cell disease is the most common inherited blood disorder among Americans, according to the National Library of Medicine. One in 500 African Americans test positive for the disease, which deforms the shape of red blood cells, causing them to break down prematurely and can deprive tissues and organs of oxygen. The disease can cause symptoms such as anemia, jaundice, organ failure and pain. 

According to Gary Gibson, president of the Martin Center, despite strides in modern medicine, the life expectancy for someone with sickle cell disease is roughly in the mid-40s. He sees Camphor as a source of inspiration that many patients need. 

“He shows that sickle cell disease doesn’t have to stop you,” Gibson said. “He doesn’t let sickle cell disease run his life, he runs his life. He has such a high spirit, and he’s inspirational. His perseverance is key.”

And a life with sickle cell disease requires perseverance. 

“Sickle cell is pain,” Camphor said. “And you have to dress warm and eat the right kinds of foods to stay healthy.”

Beyond a healthy diet and avoiding drugs and alcohol, Camphor’s strength comes from his family and his faith. 

Camphor cites his wife Gloria and their son Corey as his support circle. His grandmother, who raised him, instilled in him a strong faith, which helped Camphor heal after the death of his two brothers, John and JT, who died as a result of sickle cell disease. 

And it’s that faith that inspires Camphor to educate people on sickle cell disease and give back to the community through God’s Vision, his program that helps send children to college. 

“God is healing me,” Camphor said. “You have to stay around positive people and find your spiritual side. That’s what helped me live this long.” 

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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