Patient Care

Boy Inspires Others by Overcoming Stroke, Sickle Cell Anemia

May. 16, 2016

From the day he was born, Gary Burks has been coping with the pain and complications that come with sickle cell disease.

At age 4, Gary had a stroke, which occurs in about 10 percent of children with sickle cell disease. Because of his small veins, he needed a central venous catheter placed in his chest to reduce the blocked blood flow caused by the sickle cells. He’s now routinely tested for iron buildups in his body, which can damage his liver and heart. And he was hospitalized numerous times between birth and age 4 with upper respiratory issues and excruciating pain crises.

“Gary has faced morbidity and mortality at far too young an age,” said Razia Ahktar, M.D., a pediatric hematologist at UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital. “When stroke occurs in a child, it can result in long-term effects, as seen with Gary.” 

But Gary has continued to fight through the damage caused by his stroke and sickle cell disease. Although he walks with a limp and still has right-sided weakness, Gary has continued to be courageous and not let that hold him back from trying new things. 

“He knows he is at a disadvantage when it comes to sports and even learning in school,” said his mother, Latonya. “He pushes himself so hard and goes in 100 percent at everything he tries.”

Thanks to his incredible perseverance, Gary will be one of five children honored at the Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Miracle Luncheon on May 20.  The luncheon, which celebrates young patients who have overcome significant medical challenges, takes place from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center.