About the Film

Sick Cells Documentary Subject, Marqus Valentine.

Marqus Valentine is 32-year-old with a vast imagination that he uses for stop motion film making and writing.  Although he walks with a limp from bad hips, from the outside, he looks like anyone else. Inside, however, there is a different story taking place. If we were to take a closer look at Marqus’ red blood cells, we would see that they are twisted into odd, c-like shapes.

A slide of Marqus’ blood taken when he was in the 5th grade.

Marqus was diagnosed at six months old with the most common, inherited blood disorder in the US, Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). Marqus has the most serious type known as Sickle Cell Anemia.  Since then, Marqus has been in the hospital over a hundred times for multiple Sickle Cell complications including: stroke, lung failure, heart failure, blood transfusions, leg wounds, dead bones to hips and back, multiple surgeries and for what is considered the worst side effect of living with SCD—long periods of unending, excruciating pain which doctors and patients call “Sickle Cell crisis.”

Marqus with his brother Kevin during one of his hospital visits as a child.

Fran Valentine, Marqus’ mother, is a Registered Nurse, and after long days at the hospital, her work continues when she goes home and spends countless hours managing Marqus’ treatment, health and bills.  Often time, Fran finds herself not only being a mother, but a RN, educator to hospital staff and health advocate for her son. 

Angelo Valentine, Marqus’ father, is a Union Electrician and spends long periods of time unemployed. In those times of unemployment, Angelo picks up where Fran leaves off which includes managing bills, keeping up the house, and tending to the needs of their other two children, Kevin and Ashley.  Marqus has an older brother, Kevin, who is currently working as an electrician in Afghanistan and a younger sister, Ashley, who works as a health policy researcher in Washington, DC. 

Francesca and Angelo Valentine, newly married, before they knew that they each carried the Sickle Cell Trait.

The Valentines struggle constantly, not only with managing Marqus’ illness and his pain, but also with paying their mortgage and providing what  their family needs to live. There have been times when the choices were between food, medicine, transportation, and housing. Marqus’ life-saving medicine always won.

Marqus with his sister, Ashley, during one of his hospital visits during his high school years.

Sick Cells is the story of one family’s struggle against a genetic fate and their fight for survival fed mainly by their intense love for each other, religious faith and strong sense of humor. They constantly laugh through their tears and maintain the will to live life to its fullest.    

The Valentine family at Marqus’ high school graduation.

Sick Cells documents the Edward Hospital medical team who play a major role in maintaining Marqus’ life with his SCD.  The film also highlights the stories of other people with SCD and touches on common struggles among the Sickle Cell community like race in medicine and limited education about SCD which can lead to disparities in healthcare.