By Biz Carson The Virginian-Pilot© June 26, 2012
Against the black of his Navy JROTC dress uniform, Micah Foreman wears a small, gold pin. a gold eagle holds an anchor in its talons. Two silver stars rest above its wings.
The insignia denotes him as Cadet Master Chief Petty Officer Foreman.
He’s the second person to attain the rank in the 41-year history of the Navy Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps at Norfolk’s Granby High School. It’s the highest rank an enlisted cadet can earn before entering active duty.
It’s also the highest rank he will ever receive.
Micah was born with sickle cell anemia, a genetic disorder in which blood cells are crescent- or sickle-shaped instead of round.
He describes the disease like the game Barrel of Monkeys: “how the monkeys hook onto each other is what my blood does, so it causes me to get blood clots anywhere in my body, from my toes to my head.”
Because of the disease, Micah cannot join the military. his salute at his high school graduation was his last.
The military doesn’t allow those with sickle cell anemia or other anemic blood disorders to join. Extreme temperature and stress can be dangerous for sickle cell patients.
Micah, 18, was hospitalized six times in his senior year, with some stays lasting more than two weeks. he has had pneumonia six times, and his spleen, gallbladder and appendix were removed when he was 13.
He has battled the disease the same way he battled through the ranks – with perseverance and resilience, said Chief Warrant Officer Jerome Ferrette, senior naval science instructor at Granby.
“He’s constantly in and out of the hospital,” Ferrette said. “he would call me worrying about the unit, and I’d have to remind him to focus on getting better. I know adults that don’t have the commitment to the unit or school or anything like this 18-year-old does.”
Statewide, one in 325 African Americans suffers from sickle cell, according to the Virginia Department of Health. One in 12 African Americans in the state carries the genetic trait. If both parents have the trait, there is a 25 percent chance their child will have the disease.
Micah and his older sister inherited the disease, but neither uses it as a crutch. Micah rebounded from each hospital visit and continued with life – going back to school, rejoining his dance crew, mentoring students.
“I love that saying: ‘It’s the hand dealt to you,’ ” he said. he plays poker on Facebook and described a bluff in a recent game.
“I had a high card of five, but I bluffed right. It’s just how you take your hand.”
On the Monday before his senior prom, Micah lay in a bed at Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters.
In the month he had been there, he had missed his girlfriend’s 18th birthday and his JROTC unit’s performance at the Virginia International Tattoo. Normally, he is hospitalized once or twice a year, but this was his fifth stay.
“I’m on the bed, and I’m telling my mom, ‘I’ve been sad, but today I’m depressed,’ ” Micah said. “you see some people who have it so easy, and they’re like, ‘oh man, I had to get a Gucci bag, but I really wanted a Prada bag,’ and then they throw a hissy fit. I just wanted to go to my own prom.”
He made his desire known to one of the CHKD social workers who help children fighting cancer and sickle cell anemia. even though he was in pain, doctors cleared him for the prom.
“After that, blessings started happening back to back to back,” Micah said.
Men’s Wearhouse donated a tuxedo. The tickets and flowers were paid for. his mom’s co-worker surprised Micah with a limo.
“I was tripping,” he said. “Being sick so much, a lot of people came to me and tried to make me smile. I realized what a difference it can make to someone when you’re at your lowest and they can bring you up.”
Micah’s black Levi’s glided across the floor as he navigated the wheelchairs, tables and residents of The Ballentine, the assisted living community next door to Granby where he works.
He took drink orders and passed out dinner: hamburgers, strawberries, corn nuggets and watermelon.
A white piece of plastic stuck out from under his blue polo. It’s a new back brace, he explained to a resident – a souvenir from his latest hospitalization.
It didn’t stop him from smiling as he wiped tables between dinner shifts.
Micah paused to talk with residents, who regularly ask about his graduation, health and plans for the summer.
They’ve formed a second family for him, he said. he volunteers on his off time, playing pool and talking with residents.
When Micah realized some were veterans, he enlisted his JROTC unit to volunteer with him. The unit gives color guard demonstrations and leads bingo games on Thursdays. Members amassed more than 14,800 hours of community service under his guidance.
As a freshman, Micah started high school a little timid.
He wasn’t in any clubs and didn’t know many people, he said. he joined JROTC his sophomore year after a friend suggested it.
Soon, what started as a way to make friends turned into one of the most important things in his life.
“it gave me a new look on the military,” he said. “I wanted to join the military, but because of my health condition and sickle cell, I wasn’t able to.”
Micah said he wants to go into engineering, whether it is new cellphones or military defense technology. he said he will enroll in Tidewater Community College this fall, then plans to transfer to Old Dominion University.
His mother, Rita Foreman, is proud of all he has accomplished.
“As a parent, I’m always trying to lift him up,” she said. “sometimes, I find him lifting me up. I tell him, ‘you are my hero.’ ”
She and Micah’s father separated when Micah was young. his dad, Micah Sr., now lives in Ocean View, and Micah said his father has helped guide him to be a better young man.
Rita Foreman works two jobs to support Micah and his sister Erica, 25. They almost lost Erica last spring to sickle cell, and Rita has become accustomed to going in and out of the hospital with her two children.
Now, after watching his mother risk her jobs to take him to the hospital, plus struggle to pay medical bills, Micah wants to be the one to look out for her.
“my biggest life goal is just to make a better life for my mother,” he said. “I’ve seen her sacrifice so much for me. I want to look for a day to take care of her.”
Until then, Micah said he’ll continue working at the Ballentine and looking for a second job. in September, he and his sister plan to go on a cruise vacation – to celebrate, they hope, a summer free of hospitalizations.
“We’re a small family,” he said. “but a powerful one.”
Biz Carson, 757-446-2443, firstname.lastname@example.org
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