My Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) Story
My name is Agnes, co-founder and Executive Director for ASCA.
Our baby girl Joy had sickle cell disease (SS). She was born at King Edward Memorial Hospital in Perth late 2000s. At the time, my husband and I were unaware that we carried the sickle cell trait until she was diagnosed at 14 months old. We have three other children who do not have this condition. The warning signs were present during my pregnancy with Joy when I became very sick requiring admission to the intensive care unit for over two weeks. I was in the hospital for almost two months without a conclusive diagnosis and was only treated with steroids, different vitamins, and trial & error antibiotics to treat what seemed like sickle cell crisis symptoms. Even though the hospital detected that I had the sickle cell trait, they didn’t go further to test my husband to rule out the possibility of our daughter having the sickle cell disease. I should mention however, that, King Edwards hospital has now put guidelines to manage mothers and at-risk babies by doing sickle cell pre-natal testing.
Baby Joy’s SCD Symptoms
When our little girl was born, on the surface she looked healthy. But after about 6 months she started having unknown symptoms to us that turned out to be sickle cell symptoms. At six months she had dactylics (Foot and hand syndrome), followed by her first case of pneumonia (acute chest syndrome) at 7 months. At nine months old, she had (BRUE) a brief resolved unexplained event. At the time all we saw was that she became pale, unresponsive, sweaty and this lasted for about a minute. In medical terms, this is when an infant younger than one-year stops breathing, has a change in muscle tone, turns pale or blue in colour, or is unresponsive. I have since heard of other parents of children living with SCD that their kids also experienced this episode. Other symptoms included her suffering incessant coughs and colds, which led to a second pneumonia (acute chest syndrome) at twelve months.
Leading on to the acute chest syndrome which coincidentally was two days after her 12-month immunisation injection, Joy ran a high temperature that lasted for days. She was taken to hospital on three occasions, but the doctors insisted that it was just a reaction to the injection. The day her temperature went over 39 degrees celsius and she could not cry anymore, we took her to the GP after-hours whose surgery was right next door to a hospital, and it was there that the GP literally had to present her to the emergency department for review. However, by this time she had developed severe pneumonia and before we could comprehend what was happening, we were being transferred to the main Children’s Hospital in Perth. The following day we were told that our little girl aged 14 months had sickle cell disease (SS) and at the time her sickle cells were 87%. Her left lung had collapsed, and she needed to have a drain connected to the lungs to drain the fluid that had built up. That was November 2009. Joy went through several surgeries and was on different disease management treatments. In February 2019, Joy had a successful bone marrow transplant to cure the SCD, after her older sister Miss B donated the bone marrow which was a full 100% match. We thank God for her successful healing. Our hope is for other kids and adults with SCD to be healed completely just like her.
SCD Advocacy Journey
The diagnosis of baby Joy was a shock and quite a depressing moment for our family. For the first five years, we only told a few friends and family that our baby had SCD. In 2012, I decided to go back to university and study Nursing to understand baby Joy’s condition. After two years of full-time study, gaining a master’s degree in Nursing, the journey became easy in terms of understanding this condition and hospital procedures. In 2014, I started a Facebook page as a coping mechanism. Through researching and posting different articles about SCD, understanding this condition became easier. In October 2018, together with other parents, friends, and clinicians, this advocacy association was officially registered.