Eleven year old Martin Mwita has made more than 300 visits to health care facilities since he was a baby. He suffers from sickle cell disease and has suffered three strokes and countless other episodes. A therapy now available at Nebraska Medicine and University of Nebraska Medical Center will reduce the risk of stroke for those with this disease.
Sickle shaped cells are not flexible and can stick to vessel walls and that can cause a blockage that shows or stop the flow of blood. That prevents oxygen from reaching nearby tissues. The lack of tissue oxygen can cause sudden, severe pain that often requires treatment. Sickle cell disease can also cause stroke, chronic leg ulcers, and blood clots.
Medical Director of Blood Bank and Tissue Services Dr. Sara Shunkwiler says they are offering the state’s first pediatric chronic red cell blood exchange. She says, “We take out those sickled cells that are causing the problems and replace them with donor red cells that aren’t sickled that can do their job that we ask all of our red cells to do, bring oxygen and help us to survive.”
Patients are connected to an apheresis machine that removes sickled red cells and replaces them with normal red cells from donors. This new process allows patients to receive treatment every three to four weeks and it only takes a few hours instead of every other week with a process taking about a day.
About 1 in 600 African Americans has sickle cell disease. Nebraska Medicine recently began offering the state’s first pediatric chronic red cell blood exchange in conjunction with the American Red Cross.