Saturday, March 10, 2012

HAITI :: Crash course in sickle cell disease

On Thursday, The Red Thread converged on Tulane Hospital for Children and the Sickle Cell Center of Southern Louisiana. After navigating a half dozen or so elevators (how many elevators does one building need?!) we finally found the pediatric unit and there he was, Christopher, on US soil! It was a beautiful moment that we had waited so long for—in his mother's arms, watching classic cartoons in the waiting room. 

Playing while we wait for the doctor

We were quickly ushered into an exam room and met by very friendly social workers and Dr. Kanter. She explained everything that would happen that afternoon: blood tests, pathology, a "sickle cell 101" session, etc. We discussed Christopher's current health and reviewed what we knew of his care and treatment in Haiti. 

One of the social workers drawing a diagram of how 
sickle cell trait and disease are passed from parent to child

In just a few hours, the sickle cell specialists demonstrated their broad scope of knowledge about the condition and shared much great information: 
  • the disease evolved from Africa 
  • although very prevalent, is does not exclusively affect people of African descent
  • 1 in every 4 African Americans has sickle cell trait or disease
  • both parents have to be carriers for it to be passed on to a child
  • each person has their own symptoms / complications that are unique to them
  • long-term effects of the disease on a person's health (excessive pain, organ problems, strokes)
  • how to know when a child needs to see a doctor (fever and other indicators)
  • life-long maintenance medications (penicillin, folic acid, etc)
  • annual testing to detect strokes
  • bone marrow transplants and requirements
While we all asked questions, Christopher had blood drawn and received a physical exam. Although a bit tearful, he re-emerged riding a tricycle and was quickly back to his previous rambunctious self!

Following our appointment, Dr. Kanter would review his labs and determine the kind of sickle cell he has, make referrals for specialists closer to the family's home, and develop a long-term treatment plan. after thanking the Tulane team for their time and expertise, we set up his appointment for Friday and took the family on a little New Orleans excursion.

Enjoying time on Mom's lap during the consultation

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