Courtesy by: stlamerican.com
Informing others about sickle cell anemia is a commitment sealed in blood at Sickle Cell Disease Community Advocates (SCDCA) in St. Louis. It is run and operated by women on a mission to assist families with sickle cell disease and to support those who are working on a cure.
What is sickle cell disease?
Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disease that affects one in 500 African Americans in the U.S. and millions of people worldwide. The sickle cell gene causes the body to make abnormal hemoglobin, the iron-rich protein that gives blood its red color and carries oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body.
What causes sickle cell anemia?
If a person inherits one sickle cell gene from a parent, he or she will have a sickle cell trait. Persons with the trait usually live normally, but can pass the trait to their children. If someone inherits two sickle cell genes, they will have sickle cell anemia. Genetic counseling can help families and individuals understand the risk of having a child with the disease.
Who is at risk for sickle cell disease?
Although it is more common in darker-skinned ethnic groups, sickle cell disease can occur in people of all races.
What happens during a sickle cell crisis?
With sickle cell disease, there is not enough oxygen in red blood cells. Instead of being round, healthy red blood cells, they become rigid and deformed into the crescent sickle shape, which do not move easily throughout the body. The sickle cells can clump together and cause blockages in the blood vessels, depriving tissues of needed oxygen. This episode, known as a sickle cell crisis, can cause mild to excruciating pain, swelling and other difficulties for a period of minutes, hours or days, making it difficult to breathe, function or move about.
What are complications from sickle cell disease?
Leg ulcers, infections, acute chest syndrome, gallstones, high blood pressure in the lungs, an enlarged spleen, stroke, and organ failure are other complications that can occur with sickle cell. Many sickle cell patients require repeated hospitalizations, strong pain medication and blood transfusion therapy.
Sickle cell anemia has different names, including Hemoglobin SS disease, Hemoglobin S disease, Hemoglobin SC, HbS disease, sickle beta thalassemia, but they all are some form of sickle cell anemia.
“I have two children with sickle cell SS, which is considered to be the severe form of sickle cell anemia, but I have two different experiences between Hakeem [age11] and Haniyah [age 6],” said their mother, Tamneca Reid, who also has sickle cell disease.
“Hakeem suffers ? his cognitive skills are low, he’s deaf in one ear. He suffers emotionally. He aches pretty much every day, from mild to severe. And Haniyah, on the other hand ? she suffers none.”
At least that’s what she thought, until Haniyah received an MRI of the brain.
“Haniyah doesn’t suffer (with pain) from sickle cell disease as of now… and the testing came out that she did have a silent stroke… so you could have the same disease and suffer two different ways.”
Delores Rucker didn’t know she carries the sickle cell trait until her toddler son became ill a few years ago –right after the birth of her daughter.
They were both tested and confirmed with sickle cell anemia.
Pain treatment and pain management for sickle cell patients is crucial.
Dayvin is now 6 and Dyamond, her daughter, has experienced a lot of pain in her 4 years.
“My daughter was just in the hospital twice at Cardinal Glennon, and my son, he is receiving blood therapy,” Rucker said. The blood therapy has decreased the number of painful episodes for her son.
“As far as pain goes, for my daughter … I try Tylenol with codeine. At times, it doesn’t work, and then we’ll switch it to oxycodone. When that didn’t work, we had to send her into the hospital and they had her on morphine ? a constant-drip morphine. And after a while – after a few days, it tends to work.”
Rucker said when the intravenous morphine doesn’t work – her health care providers will give her a blood transfusion.
She avoids extreme weather but any day without a sickle cell crisis is considered a good day.
“My son was actually just in the hospital and when we were leaving out with him, she was fine … running through the hallway fine and she slept the whole way to the house and the moment she woke up, she was in pain, so I turned around and took her right back. It’s just hard.”
Every day is a challenge with sickle cell anemia.
Social worker Tanjila Bolden is in pain every time she walks because of what sickle cell anemia has done to her hips. Her doctor told her she needed a hip replacement, but the graduate school student is trying to avoid that surgery as long as possible. Bolden is the mother one child. Her 10-year-old son has the sickle cell trait rather than the full-blown disease, and thankfully, she was able to bare her son before sickle cell anemia took its toll on her body.
“Every time I had a menstrual cycle, I had severe cramps and the cramps would start in my lower abdomen and lead into my back and down into my legs and I would go into a full blown crisis every time I had a cycle,” Bolden said.
Fluids, pain medicine – and sometimes oxygen were used to treat these monthly crises, but Bolden said they did not provide adequate relief.
“I got to a point where they put me on Depo [Provera] shot–the birth control to stop the periods … it stopped my cycles, which stopped the amount of crises that I had. Well, the Depo caused osteoporosis in the lower part of my spine, so I had to stop taking that. They were looking at burning the lining of my uterus to stop the cycles. That didn’t work… so they did a partial hysterectomy.”
A sickle cell anemia crisis can strike any part of the body, even your sexual organs. For 10 to 40 percent of males with sickle cell, priapism can occur, a condition causing painful, elongated erections.
Living through these terrible ordeals of both her son and her sister are the reasons Caroline Douglas founded SCDCA.
“There is nothing like an amputated spirit – many of these families suffer with that,” Douglas said.
The SCDCA Camp Moon Light debuted in August for children with sickle cell anemia and their siblings to learn and understand what they are going through.
“Sickle cell disease is not just one person’s condition – it affects the entire family. What we want to do is not just educate about sickle cell disease, but about sickle cell trait,” Douglas said. As a community with sickle cell, it is important for us to network with one another. What we try to do is make sure they are aware of the nature of their condition and then we educate them about what their condition is and how to live a better quality of life.”
Reid’s son attended Camp Moon Light and Camp Crescent, which is for children with sickle cell disease.
“Both camps were really good for him and his spirit. On one hand, Camp Crescent –it supplied friends and peers that suffer with the same condition. One the other hand, Camp Moon Light brought him out of his element,” Reid described. “My son – he’s nervously shy … but at the Camp Moonlight, he showed personality, he was dancing and doing things he normally don’t do around other people and built his confidence up to the ceiling.”
Last week, SCDCA held its Moon Light Walk to help fund Camp Moonlight and other programs and activities. The organization is looking for assistance to expand the camp into from a two-day to a five to six-week enrichment session.