NEW ORLEANS – Ollie Green’s first memory of dealing with sickle cell disease was when he was five years old. "I missed my mom’s birthday,” said the 16-year-old from New Iberia, La. "Then I missed Mother’s Day and my birthday. I missed everything because I was in the hospital.”
Today, he undergoes an eight-hour blood transfusion every 21 days to manage the effects of his disease. But Ollie may soon be free of the instantaneous, debilitating episodes of pain which strike at any time without warning. On Feb. 24, he is scheduled for a bone marrow transplant (BMT) to cure his disease. It is the first time Children’s Hospital will perform a BMT from an unrelated donor for a sickle cell patient.
"There have been around 20 sickle cell patients in the United States who have undergone this procedure with an unrelated donor,” said Dr. Lolie Yu, director of Children’s Hospital’s Hematology/Oncology department and bone marrow transplant program, and professor of pediatrics at LSU Health Sciences Center – New Orleans. "In general, the donor comes from within the family, but most patients only have a 25 percent chance of finding an appropriate match from a relative. This transplant is riskier than with related donors, but we’ve found a perfect match. And, hopefully, Ollie will soon be on his way to living life like a teenager.”
Sickle cell is an inherited disease in which normal, disc-shaped red blood cells, which take oxygen to every part of the body, change into fragile crescent moons that resemble a sickle, a curved blade used to cut crops like wheat. Sickled cells often break into pieces and block blood flow, causing severe pain and potential damage to organs, muscles, and bones. In addition to bouts of pain (called crises), which may last for hours or days, in the hands, feet, belly, back or chest, it can also lead to infections and stroke. People with sickle cell disease often have anemia, caused by a shortage of red blood cells, which makes them weak and tired. The only physical sign might be a pale or washed out look and skin and the whites of their eyes may have a yellow look of jaundice.
Ollie’s crises occurred as often as four times a month with pain so bad he would be hospitalized for two weeks at a time. It has caused him to miss school and the activities most youngsters take for granted. "There’s nothing I can do to ease his pain,” said Tanya Green, Ollie’s mother. "It’s so stressful and frustrating, being his mother and not being able to do anything. He’s had dose after dose of morphine to deal with the pain. It doesn’t take it away, but helps him cope. This bone marrow transplant is really going to make a life difference for us.”
Ollie will be admitted to Children’s Hospital on Feb. 15, and will stay there until he recovers from the transplant. Because his associated radiation/chemotherapy treatment will reduce his ability to fight infection, he will be in isolation. To help him keep in touch with friends and family in New Iberia, Ollie’s parents bought him a mobile phone with face-to-face messaging. "It’s going to be tough to be in New Orleans and not be part of Carnival,” Ollie said, "but I’m looking forward to being finished with sickle cell and being able to play.”