WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Ron Katz knows what it's like to try to live a normal life, while controlling pain through medication. With a compromised immune system, it's become part of the tire dealer's routine.
So it makes perfect sense that he and his team at Midas of West Palm Beach chose to donate a vehicle — some would call it a clunker in its initial stage — to an organization that serves clients who need medication to control a blood disorder with no cure.
As a participant in Midas' Project Spark initiative, Mr. Katz's dealership took ownership of a seven-passenger 2010 Buick Enclave, donated by Cars for Charity. Over the following few weeks, the dealership, led by Mr. Katz, refurbished the vehicle to showroom shape, in anticipation of donating it for use to a suitable nonprofit.
With the help of a local pastor, Linda Collymore of Operation Kingdome International Church, Mr. Katz chose to donate the SUV to the Sickle Cell Foundation of Palm Beach County & Treasure Coast Inc., which has been serving the community for more than 40 years.
When the agency was first proposed, Mr. Katz's response was: What is sickle-cell disease?
The answer hit home with Mr. Katz.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), healthy oxygen-producing red blood cells are round. For those who suffer the disease, red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool, or a sickle.
The CDC says sickle cells has a short lifespan, which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells. And as they travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow, causing pain and other problems such as infection, acute chest syndrome and stroke.
The disease disproportionately affects people of African descent. The life expectancy for women afflicted with the disease is 48 years; for men, it's 44.
"Life is riddled with infection and pain," Shalonda Warren, CEO of the Palm Beach agency, said. "There is no universal cure. All you can do is mask the pain."
Patients can live a reasonable quality of life and have careers.
Ms. Warren said patients must take a narcotic in order to cope. "They can have a normal life as long as they are afforded proper care," she said.
Once Mr. Katz learned about the disease and its ramifications, he knew the agency was a perfect fit for the refurbished vehicle. That was especially true since Mr. Katz and his Midas team spent several weeks getting the vehicle drivable.
"It was a mess," Mr. Katz recalled. "There were dents in every fender, and it was scratched up like you wouldn't believe. It was missing seats. It was really in bad shape."
With the help of vendors and others — he and manager John Kellem drove to a junkyard during the heart of a Miami heatwave to find a similar vehicle and manually removed a part for mirror — he nurtured the car back into shape.
He said he spent $2,500 in his own money to purchase parts at a discounted price for the vehicle. He sweet-talked several businesses into donating services, including one that provided a final wash and wax.
The day finally arrived in February 2020, when Mr. Katz handed over to the keys to Ms. Warren before a group of dignitaries that included Ms. Collymore; Frank Hayden, chairman of the Sickle Cell Foundation; and Ralph Luberda and Louis Lugo of Midas.
"When we run into partners like you, that help us tremendously to be able to provide that service, we are so thankful," Mr. Hayden said. "Thank you on behalf of the children and adults who suffer from this terrible disease."
"A lot of times people just hit a speed-bump in the road, but they are striving to get ahead in life," Mr. Lugo, Midas senior marketing manager, said. "When you provide these folks with transportation, it opens up plenty of doors that they would not have been able to open before."