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Sickle Cell Anemia by Precious Wilson-Cox

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I have heard the term sickle cell anemia and have often wondered what it is and what it does, and I consider myself fortunate.  I didn’t totally understand, but now I can see what this disease entails.  Normal red blood cells are round.  They can move throughout the body with little effort.  They carry oxygen all over the body to keep the body in good working order because the body needs oxygen to maintain its equilibrium, homeostasis, and life.  Sickle cell anemia is a genetic blood disorder whose cells are shaped like a sickle, a farm tool.  They also have to carry oxygen throughout the body, only they have a hard time doing it because of the shape of the cells.

In 1922 this illness was named sickle cell anemia by Verne Mason, a resident of Johns Hopkins Hospital.  The sickle cells are not able to go smoothly through the bloodstream carrying oxygen.  The cells move slowly through the bloodstream bumping into organs and blood vessels and may get stuck going through the bloodstream.

This disease is inherited from two parents who have the sickle cell trait.  Parents pass it on to their children.  For example, if the child gets one sickle cell gene from the mother and one sickle cell gene from the father, the child will develop sickle cell anemia.  In another example, if the child inherits one gene from the father who has the sickle cell trait, and one gene from the mother who does not have any disease, the child will only have one sickle cell gene, and as a result, the child will only have the sickle cell trait, not sickle cell anemia.  However, the child has the potential to spread the disease if he/ she meets another person with the sickle cell trait.  A child from this union would have sickle cell anemia.

Oftentimes, the physician is not sure if the infant has sickle cell anemia, so the infant is tested in various ways to find out if he or, she is infected with this blood disease. The test for sickle cell anemia in infants includes looking at the infant’s blood under a microscope to see if the blood has the sickle cells there;  also by testing the mother amniotic fluid around the baby can show sickle cell anemia; and lastly, the physician could do a simple blood test on the infant.  At this time the physician does not know the role that sickle cell anemia will play in the child’s life, however, if needed the doctor can provide some treatment for the child in a timely manner.  If it is determined that the child has the disease, treatment for the child with sickle cell anemia includes a daily dose of antibiotics given by the doctor to the child from two years of age until five years of age to prevent infections, like pneumonia.

A bone marrow transplant is a cure for sickle cell, but it is difficult to find a donor.  People plan lots of special events to raise awareness about bone marrow donation, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of interest in donating.  These events have been very ineffective in getting people on board.  However, If the doctor uses bone marrow, it is a special procedure that must be used.  It could have serious consequences including death if the wrong process is used.   Other treatments include drinking plenty of fluids, blood transfusions, taking folic acid, and a pain regimen.

Anemia is a disease in which there is a decrease in the number of red blood cells; that is why people with anemia have to take iron tablets to increase their red blood cell count.  Sickle cell anemia requires a pain management plan because there is a tremendous amount of pain associated with this disease.  People who live with sickle cell anemia have to learn how to manage this disease their entire life so that they can have a good quality of life.  Sickle cell anemia has a lot of painful episodes if the cell gets stuck in a blood vessel or blocks the flow of blood, pain manifests itself for a significant amount of time in the hands, feet, belly, back, and chest.

Some extreme problems related to sickle cell anemia are stroke, leg ulcer, chronic pain, chronic renal failure, high blood pressure, loss of red blood cells, protein loss in the urine, and damage to organs or possibly death.  In a study done in 2001, the survival rate for this disease was 53 years of age for men and 58 years of age for women.

A lot of people with sickle cell disease live in places like India, the Middle East, Africa, Nigeria, and the United States.


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