Is a cure for a disease that has devastated our community on the horizon? A new medical development at UIC offers promise for African Americans, who disproportionately suffer from the condition in which there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells carrying oxygen to where it’s needed in the body. The disease often shortens life expectancy and can result in chronic hospitalization.
But hope for a solution is here, as a Chicago woman can attest.
Ieshea Thomas, 33, has become the first Midwest patient to get a successful stem cell treatment that eradicated her sickle cell disease without needing chemotherapy in advance of the transplant. Thomas’s procedure—which was performed by University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System physicians—only involved medication aimed at suppressing her immune system and she also received a small dose of total body radiation prior to the operation, according to a University of Illinois at Chicago media announcement.
This unorthodox treatment aims at allowing patient’s existing bone marrow to coexist with the donor, eventually taking over to produce healthy red blood cells, rather than the telltale sickle-shaped variety.
Six months after the transplant, Thomas has been issued a clean bill of health.
“Sickle cell disease is devastating — both emotionally and physically,” Dr. Dennis Levinson, who has taken care of Thomas for the past 16 years, said in the UIC statement. “I’ve been terribly frustrated with Ieshea’s disease over the years, and I’ve cared for many other sickle cell patients who have died.”
The success of this procedure could serve as a blueprint in the medical field and drastically impact this medial crisis. An estimated 1 out of 500 Black children born have the disease, according to data from the National Institutes of Health.