Chronic, excruciating pain doesn’t usually menace the young as it does the old, but for one Revere High School (RHS) senior, living with the threat of pain – pain that could come at any minute – has been a constant barrier to fight through.
Nonetheless, Tamar Bonaventure – who will graduate today, June 8 – has overcome the debilitating Sickle Cell Anemia disease and broken down the barrier of pain in her life. In fact, Bonaventure will head to Assumption College in Worcester this fall with the goal of becoming a physician in order to help others who have suffered similarly.
“I was born with Sickle-Cell Anemia, they figured it out when I was six months old, and so I’ve been in and out of the hospital every year of my life,” she said. “I’ve become really close to all the nurses, patients and doctors because of that. So, I like the feeling of someone making people happy. I was always taught that God is first, then others and, lastly, yourself. One way I feel I can help others is by becoming a doctor.”
Briefly, Sickle Cell is a blood disease in which the blood cells become pointed and crescent-shaped and often cause flare-ups of extreme pain all over the body. Bonaventure said that the pain flare-ups can happen at any time and they are debilitating and always result in a hospital stay, causing her to miss out on important academic and social events.
“It’s more like what haven’t I missed out on,” she said. “There’s been a lot of things I’ve missed out on over the years because of this disease, but I’ve always been determined to find a way around it.”
Take for example the all-important ACT college entrance exam.
Bonaventure prepared for the difficult test; she studied and drilled for it.
Then, on the day before the test she had a flare up and had to miss the test in favor of a trip to the hospital to care for her disease.
She was never able to re-take that test – which is considered mandatory and crucial for those who want to move on to college. Nevertheless, she was able to survive on the strength of her academic and social performance at RHS. That was enough to get over that barrier and get her into Assumption, a very noted university in Worcester.
“It’s just like when I was a kid I wanted to go to camp like every other kid in my grade, but I never could go because I have this disease that no one knows much about and that could flare up at any moment,” she said. “What ended up happening is we found this camp called the Hole in the Wall Camp, which is a camp sponsored by Paul Newman and is specifically for kids with blood diseases. We’re always able to find some way to get around this.”
“I am the first to tell a joke, to go on stage or to go out on the dance floor,” she said. “In another way, though, I’m the first one to step back into a corner and watch everyone else do their thing.”
Bonaventure’s mother, Marie Bonnet, came from Haiti more than 20 years ago, but Bonaventure was born in the U.S. and began her schooling in East Boston.
In fact, when they moved to Mountain Avenue seven years ago – when Bonaventure was in the sixth grade – she didn’t even know about the City of Revere. Now, she said she has embraced the City and the schools as much as they have embraced her.
“I didn’t even know there was a City called Revere; I thought she meant we were going to live on Revere Beach,” said Bonaventure. “I was scared. It was a new experience, a new town and new friends. I kind of went into a corner at first and was shy, but eventually I came around and blossomed here…It’s a great city. The people are good. Truthfully, I will miss just talking with the teachers here. I have grown to have a very close relationship with most of them. I will miss that the most.”
Bonaventure is involved in numerous activities, including the Culture Club, the Robotics Club, RHS Connect, Student Council and Speech & Debate.
She lists a detailed list of teachers who have influenced her and who have been good listeners when she was facing medical challenges.
And when she goes to Worcester this fall, it isn’t the schoolwork or the new location that she worries about. She worries about how she will handle her disease alone, but she’s already got an idea as to how she’ll break that barrier.
“I am a momma’s girl and I need her by my side,” she said. “The big question going through my head is whether or not I’ll be happy and what will I do if I do have a pain crisis. Not a lot of people there may know about sickle cell. It’s not a life-threatening disease, but people should know about it. Maybe that’s what I’ll do out there, teach people about sickle cell.”
Bonaventure will be part of this year’s graduating class, who will receive their diplomas and walk the path of graduation today, June 8th, at Harry Della Russo Stadium.