BY ASHLEY D. THOMAS
The Bethune-Cookman University’s Odessa Chambliss Center for Health Equity is sponsoring free sickle cell screenings for the community in April and May.
Dr. Diana Lee, director of the center, says a grant received from Volusia County Government will pay for the tests, which will be administered at no cost by nurses from Halifax Health Medical Center.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the condition occurs in about one in 12 African-Americans.
What it is
Sickle cell anemia is the most common form of sickle cell disease (SCD), a serious disorder in which the body makes sickle-shaped red blood cells that resemble a crescent.
Normal red blood cells are disc-shaped and move easily through blood vessels delivering oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body.
However, sickle cells are stiff and sticky and tend to block blood flow in the blood vessels of the limbs and organs. Blocked blood flow can cause pain and organ damage. It can also raise the risk for infection.
Bridging the gap
“In Daytona Beach, we used to have a sickle cell anemia association that was very active and well-run for many years,” Lee shared. “The women that ran the organization were ready to retire and the organization closed. At that point, Dr. Dianna Wathington, Dr. Raphael Isokpehi and myself, submitted an application for a grant that the county had to promote awareness and administer testing for sickle cell disease.”
Lee says the group received the grant in January.
“It came through and we started meeting to see how we were going to target the community,” she continued. “Dr. Wathington spoke to Halifax Hospital and we started testing in February.”
Trait vs. disease
Sickle cell anemia varies from person to person. Some people who have the disease have chronic (long-term) pain or fatigue (tiredness). However, with proper care and treatment, many people who have the disease can have improved quality of life and reasonable health much of the time.
Because of improved treatments and care, people who have sickle cell anemia are now living much longer.
Dr. Matilda Johnson and Nadine Heusaer, both with the Odessa, also spoke to the Daytona Times.
Heusaer, along with psychology students from B-CU, were trained on sickle cell disorders and how to deliver information to those who learn they have the trait or the disease.
“We really talked about ways to tell people how to plan for the next step,” Heusaer related. “It is a lot to tell someone that they have sickle cell trait; we are here to tell them what it all means.”
Lee explained, “At that point is when myself or Dr. Wathington steps in. If you have just the trait, you don’t have the anemia, but it means you have a marker in your DNA that makes it more likely that you will have a child with sickle cell anemia.
“Also people with trait may have some symptoms as well. Maybe when it is really hot or they haven’t drank enough fluids. There are some guidelines that they should follow from eating healthier, getting enough fluids, to being aware of how they feel physically.”
“It can be prevented,” Johnson said. “If you don’t reproduce with someone who has the trait then you will not pass it on from generation to generation, but people don’t know.
“So their whole lives they (people with the trait) have to be watched, and when they are looking to get married, if you have two people who come together who have the trait, you are very likely to have an anemic child. We are trying to catch it so that if you know that you have the trait, when you get the reproductive age you can make decisions.”
Lee added, “Knowledge is power. Empowering patients to know if they have the trait so when they start dating they can ask the other person ‘Hey, I hate to ask you, but do you have the trait?’ So then they can make the decision (to discontinue the relationship) in the beginning when there aren’t as many feelings involved.”
Sickle cell anemia is most common in people whose families come from Africa, South or Central America (especially Panama), the Caribbean islands, Mediterranean countries (such as Turkey, Greece, and Italy), India, and Saudi Arabia.
In the United States, it’s estimated that sickle cell anemia affects 70,000 to 100,000 people, mainly African Americans.
Testing at the Odessa Chambliss Center for Health Equity will be held twice in April and twice in May.
The center is located at 113 Lockhart St., one block south of International Speedway Boulevard.
Contact Dr. Diana Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 386-481-2838 for more details.