Dotty Nicholas receives the Lifetime Achievement Award for her work on sickle cell disease

By Lincoln DePradine

Mitzie Hunter, Dotty Nicholas & Tiney Beckles

Dotty Nicholas, a retired nurse, has been a champion in making life easier for sickle cell disease (SCD) patients, especially children affected by sickle cell anemia. A book, documenting her work, could be in the making; but, more importantly, she would like to see the emergence of a cure for SCD.

Nicholas has worked in various nursing capacities. However, she’s most lauded for her contribution to SCD, a group of blood disorders.

“There are many researchers that are doing great research. I do hope that one day they’ll come up with something to switch off that sickle cell gene. I’m hoping that that will happen some time down the line. It’s never too late,’’ Nicholas told The Caribbean Camera last Saturday at an event of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Canada (SCDAC).

Jamaica-born Nicholas, popularly referred to as “Miss Dotty’’, worked in various nursing capacities, beginning in 1971 in Jamaica and continuing after her arrival in Canada in 1989. Nicholas devoted much of her working life to serving the sickle cell community.

SCD has the highest frequency in tropical regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and among people of African descent in the Diaspora. It leaves patients in excruciating pain during what is known as a “sickle cell crisis’’.

Nicholas, formerly employed at Rouge Valley Health System in Scarborough, was also the nurse clinician for the first “Satellite Sickle Cell Clinic’’ at Centenary Hospital.

A mother of three and a grandmother, who received specialized training in SCD, Nicholas was a founding-member of the SCDAC and served as vice-chair. She was vice president of the Sickle Cell Awareness Group of Ontario and also president of the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario (SCAO).

As well, Nicholas is credited with organizing a Sickle Cell Parent Support Group at the Rouge Valley Health System, and also with working with the Toronto District School Board to educate teachers on SCD.

The SCDAC, said association board member Tiney Beckles, decided that Nicholas was deserving of a “Lifetime Achievement Award’’.

Others present included family members of Nicholas; representative of Camp Jumokee and sickle cell organizations such as the SCAO; and Mitzie Hunter, Ontario Liberal Party MPP for Scarborough-Guildwood.

The SCDAC said it’s recognizing Nicholas for the “care and support’’ she has provided to those living with SCD and acknowledging her “outstanding provincial-, national- and international-recognized contribution to the sickle cell community’’. 

Nicholas, who retired from nursing in 2013, said a book of her own is “something that is on the agenda. I’m sure it will happen one day’’.

An associate pastor at Rhema Christian Ministries in Toronto, Nicholas dedicated the award to “all the nurses and doctors’’ who have worked with SCD patients “to give them a better quality of life’’.

She specifically referenced the contribution to the sickle cell community of Jamaican-Canadian Lillie Johnson.

“She was my mentor for advocacy,’’ said Nicholas, a Canada Christian College and Theological Seminaries graduate, who is pursuing a Master’s degree in theology.

 Johnson, a trained nurse and midwife, was the first Black person to serve as public health director in Ontario.

She also taught at Humber College and was a consultant for the ministry of health.

Johnson, who turns 100 this year, was among a group of professionals that founded the Sickle Cell Association of Ontario in 1981.

Like Nicholas, Johnson was involved in lobbying efforts for widespread screening of newborn babies for sickle cell disease. Screening newborns in Ontario for SCD was granted in 2006.

This has helped to increase life expectancy for children with SCD. Life expectancy has gone from an average of less than 20 years to almost 54.

However, Nicholas argued Saturday that, “we still have a far way to go’’.

“We still have a lot of work to do,’’ she added. “We still need a permanent cure.’’

Since 2013, scholarship awards have been given to Ontario residents living with SCD to support them with post-secondary studies. They’re called the Dotty Nicholas Sickle Cell Scholarships.