Death of second grader turns school's health focus around

Damareon Bracks died of sickle cell anemia

SAN DIEGO - Damareon Bracks was a second grader who loved school and had big dreams. His mother proudly showed 10News a drawing he sketched, depicting Damareon meeting President Barack Obama.

“What 6 year old has the biggest wish of meeting the President? He just wanted to meet him, shake his hand,” said Valerie Grant, Damareon’s mother. “He was the smartest kid. His teachers would tell me all the time -- whatever you’re doing , just keep doing it.”

Damareon collapsed on Sept. 11, 2010 and died of untreated sickle cell anemia. It’s routinely screened for in newborns, but like many parents at Central Elementary, Valerie had no address to send the test results to.

“It was a normal day, he went to a football game. He was a healthy kid, running around. You don’t expect your child to go before you do,” said Valerie.

To make sure this would never happen again, Central Elementary took a risk -- spending big, building a health clinic honoring Damareon right next to their classrooms. Principal Cindy Marten says Central Elementary has “every risk factor” for children, 100 percent of the students are below the poverty line, many are not native English speakers. The clinic provides primary care that most children in this largely uninsured neighborhood would never get and in two years, Marten says it’s turned this school around.

“Beyond my wildest dreams, it’s a huge success,” Marten told 10News. “Two years ago, maybe 60 students would be out sick every day. Now on average only 20 are absent.”

Marten says that means more learning, and she has the test results to prove it. In two years, literacy has gone from 18 percent to an expected 55 percent. The health care workers here say it’s simply because children are healthy enough to learn.

“This clinic has the ability to change lives and save lives, and it does that every day,” said Dorothy Zirkle, a nurse and PhD. at the clinic.

It may have saved Gabby Guerrero’s life this year. A routine vision test stunned Gabby’s family when it revealed cancer in her eye. Gabby’s mother spoke with 10News reporter Natasha Zouves on the phone. She said there were no obvious signs. Without the clinic, the family never would have caught the cancer. Gabby is undergoing treatment now, her mom says she’s on the mend.

There’s a blue star in the middle of the clinic in Damareon’s honor.

“Damareon is someone I work for every day. We work in his memory, we work in his honor,” said Marten.

Damareon’s mother says helping other kids is exactly what he would have wanted.

“He’d always put another kid in front of himself,” said Valerie. “Whenever he’d go to the ice cream truck, he’d give his money away to someone who couldn’t afford it. Not a morning goes by that I don’t wake up and think of him. He was a star.”

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