Kicking, Punching and Teaching
Desi, Age 10
Most children don’t like going to the doctor, especially when there is a needle involved. However, for then-7-year-old Desi Smith, this procedure became a regular occurrence when she experienced a stroke as a result of sickle cell disease and had to begin regular transfusion therapies.
“Desi would tense up and it would be a very grueling day,” her mother, Pam, recalls of the initial trips to the hospital for what her family refers to as “cure days.” Desi’s doctor at the Children’s Hospital in Detroit suggested that Pam look into Kids Kicking Cancer, which also works with sickle cell patients, a program that would teach Desi martial arts, as well as how to gain control over her mind and body during stressful times.
When Pam took Desi to class for the first time, she was surprised at the quality of the program. “The kids learn real techniques and fundamentals of martial arts and the instructors are legitimate. For parents who are swamped with medical bills, the fact that there was no cost was also a big deal.”
To help Desi implement the techniques taught through Kids Kicking Cancer, one of the instructors, Peter, started to come to each transfusion appointment and coach her through it. Pam says, “The nurses were used to her screaming but it was so easy and effortless with Peter there.”
Pam even began to pick up some tips from Desi and has since started using power breathing during her everyday life, when she has a painful toothache, or when she gets stuck in traffic.
Today, not only is 10-year-old Desi brave enough to face a needle without Peter, she frequently teaches power breathing to other children who are waiting for transfusions or shots at the hospital. “When people would see Peter in his uniform helping Desi with her breathing, they’d always ask us ‘Does that really work?’ and Desi would say, ‘Do it with us.’”
Desi says, “The instructors are really great! Everyone gets to participate and blowing out the bad feelings is important.”
Pam believes that Desi’s training doesn’t just help her medical condition, it builds her character. A few years ago, Desi saw a commercial for a blood drive on TV and asked her mother if they could hold their own. Pam requested sponsorship through her employer, the Salvation Army, and for the last three years, they’ve held “Desi’s Blood Drive for Heroes.”
When asked what her favorite part of Kids Kicking Cancer is, Desi says, “the kicks, punches, power breathing, pretty much all of it,” in addition to spending time with the friends she’s made.
“The inner power it gives her to face any challenge, whether its health or school, builds her confidence. The program helps kids realize they don’t have to deal with the pain,” says Pam.