Brotherly Love: Siblings Receive Bone Marrow Transplant From Older Brother
Children diagnosed with Sickle Cell Diseases
By Ashley Parrott
Life as a parent with a child who has Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is already frightening enough, but could you imagine this diagnosis with two of your kids?
Mykhia and Malik, now 11 and 12 years old, were diagnosed with SCD within the first two years of their lives. When the family first learned of the diagnoses, they were referred to the Hematology and Oncology department at Cook Children’s.
Their mother, Monique Hammon, was familiar with the disease as it already ran in her family. She knew Malik and Mykhia would eventually need the cure of a bone marrow transplant.
“On my dad’s side, I grew up watching my family deal with sickle cell and a majority of them died from it,” Monique said. “My sister’s son went through the same thing that Malik and Mykhia went through, except he didn’t have a sibling that could donate bone marrow.”
Malik began to have more and more SCD crises, an acute pain episode that occurs when the sickle-shaped blood cells start to clump in the blood stream, and was frequently hospitalized at Cook Children’s.
Monique watched her children struggle to act like kids. They couldn’t play sports or swim due to the frequent crises and health problems, such as signs of stroke and organ failure.
“Mykhiah never had an episode. Her eyes would stay yellow, but one day her spleen swelled up and she had to have it removed,” Monique said.
Siblings typically have the highest chances of becoming potential bone marrow donors, but only 30 percent of families can find a match. Malik and Mykhia’s oldest brother was eventually tested to determine if he could be their cure, and he was.
“They [Malik and Mykhia] had a donor match,” Monique said. “I just thank God that my oldest son was a match for both of them instead of them waiting for a donor to come.”
Mykhia received her transplant first in 2015, due to signs of stroke on her MRI test results while Malik received his in 2016. The siblings can now swim and play soccer without fear of potential crisis.
“While Stem cell transplant can provide a cure for Sickle Cell Disease, it is not an easy cure. There can be many complications. Some patients may not engraft, meaning the donor cells may not grow, and the patient’s own cell grow back instead or a second transplant is needed," said Clarissa Johnson, M.D., medical director of the Sickle Cell Programt at Cook Children's. "There can also be challenges with finding a donor. So unfortunately we cannot consider stem cell transplant to be a universal cure that is available to all with the disease. More research for a universal cure is needed. There are small trials with gene therapy being done currently which I hope will prove successful to offer the chance of cure to even more people with Sickle Cell Disease.”
SCD is the abnormal shaping of red blood cells. The red blood cells are shaped like crescents instead of circles. They don’t last long and they can get stuck in the blood vessels, which blocks the blood flow, often resulting in pain and organ damage.
Approximately 100,000 Americans have Sickle Cell and an estimated 3 million Americans carry the trait, which can be passed onto their children.
Among the many misconceptions of SCD, African Americans are not the only race affected by the disease. While the African American race makes up a reported 60 to 80 percent of Americans diagnosed, people of Indian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic and Mediterranean descent may also be affected.
The cure for SCD lies in bone marrow transplants, and while siblings typically are the best matches for this disease, anyone willing to donate can be tested.
An estimated 3,000 people die each year in the United States from waiting for a donor for a bone marrow transplant because of the lack of donors on the registry.
Donating bone marrow requires less than five percent of bone marrow cells and is typically taken from the hip of the donor or through a non-surgical procedure in which it is collected through an IV.