The Sticky Sickle Cell Problem

by Emmanuel Agyemang

This painful disease disproportionately impacts African
Americans—and there is a simple way you can help.

About 1 out of every 13 African American
babies are born with sickle cell trait, and about
1 in every 365 are born with sickle cell disease
(Sickle Cell, MedlinePlus).

Sickle cell disease is a “group of inherited
red blood cell disorders whereby normally
healthy round red blood cells carrying oxygen
throughout the body are misshapen.” Sickle
cell patients have sticky red blood cells that are
C-shaped, in the likeness of the ‘sickle’ farm tool
(Sickle Cell, CDC). Because these sickle cells are
not fully shaped, they die early, causing a constant shortage of red blood cells. When
traveling through small blood vessels, they can
get stuck and clog the blood flow. This results
in excruciating pain for the patient and may
cause other serious issues such as infection
or stroke. In fact, sickle cell patients are
more prone to infections like pneumonia and
meningitis as well as bone infections (Infection
and Sickle Cell Disease, St. Jude).

The quality of life for sickle cell patients
is greatly hampered by the pain episodes they
frequently endure. Currently, the only cure for
sickle cell disease is a bone marrow transplant.
Bone marrow transplantation involves
replacing the abnormal stem cells in the bone
marrow with healthy cells from an eligible
family member. Alternatively, pain medications,
folic acid, or other vitamins help to manage the
disease by assisting the production of new red
blood cells. These over-the-counter remedies
are not always effective, as they fail to fully
mitigate episodes of severe and recurring pain.
Many patients are encouraged to drink plenty
of water, as dehydration has been linked to an
increased risk of flare-ups and nearly all must
find routines that help manage the pain.

Flare-ups, or pain episodes can occur, for
example, when sickle cells become trapped in
the blood vessels of the spleen and block blood
flow. Though not a cure, a blood transfusion
helps the trapped red blood cells move back
into the circulation and reduces the pain.
Without a blood transfusion, this phenomenon
can lead to enlargement of the spleen and
severe pain crisis that over-the-counter
remedies cannot solve. You can do your part to
help sickle cell patients by donating your blood
to be used in these transfusions. When the
sickle cell patients’ red blood cells block blood
vessels due to their sickle shape, healthy red
blood cells from transfusions help temper
the raging pain and fatigue that arises from
these events.

You can donate through the nearest
hospital or through American Red Cross Blood
Services. Blood transfusion is necessary for
the survival of sickle cell patients, and those
willing to donate their blood are much needed.

It is imperative that we try to help
sickle cell patients as much as we can, through
donating blood, providing accommodations
for them in schools and the workplace, and
providing them with mental health support.
The National Sickle Cell Advocacy Network
helps raise funds and awareness of the
disease. The Sickle Cell Disease Association
of America is a great forum for people to
educate themselves on the disease and current
initiatives helping sickle cell patients.

About Emmanuel Agyemang

Emmanuel Agyemang is an international student from Ghana
and a recent graduate of Bradley University with a degree in Political
Science. He has an interest in pursuing law in the near future.

About Sophie Liu 

Sophie Liu is a senior at Dunlap High School who has won numerous art prizes such as the Scholastic Art and Writing Gold Key Award and several honorable mentions. As someone who also values academics, business, and volunteering, she has participated in and led many activities in her community. Her volunteering contribution has awarded her the Gold President’s Volunteer Service Award. She is one of the club leaders of her school’s Interact Volunteering Club. During her summers, Liu has participated in several business camps such as Kelley Business’s Young Women’s Institute, where she has gained knowledge and experience in her passion. She also runs her own online art business where she creates commissioned art pieces and gains firsthand business experience. Liu plans to continue her love of business, volunteering, and art in college, where she will major in either Marketing or Business Analytics and minor in art.