Chicago woman Ieshea Thomas is the first Midwest patient to receive a successful stem cell transplant to cure her sickle cell disease without chemotherapy in preparation for the transplant according to Bossip.
University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System physicians performed the procedure using medication to suppress her immune system and one small dose of total body radiation right before the transplant.
The transplant technique is relatively uncommon and is a much more tolerable treatment for patients with aggressive sickle cell disease who often have underlying organ disease and other complications, says Dr. Damiano Rondelli, professor of medicine at UIC, who performed Thomas’s transplant.
The procedure initially allows a patient’s own bone marrow to coexist with that of the donor. Since the patient’s bone marrow is not completely destroyed by chemotherapy or radiation prior to transplant, part of the immune defense survives, lessening the risk of infection. The goal is for the transplanted stem cells to gradually take over the bone marrow’s role to produce red blood cells — normal, healthy ones.
Thomas, 33, had her first sickle cell crisis when she was just 8 months old. Her disease became progressively worse as an adult, particularly after the birth of her daughter. She has spent most of her adult life in and out of hospitals with severe pain and has relied on repeated red blood cell transfusions. Her sickle cell disease also caused bone damage requiring two hip replacements.
“I just want to be at home with my daughter every day and every night,” said Thomas, who depends on family to help care for her daughter during her frequent hospitalizations.
Sickle Cell is a disease that primarily affects people of African descent, including about one in every 500 African Americans born in the U.S. The defect causes the oxygen-carrying red blood cells to be crescent shaped, like a sickle. The misshapen cells deliver less oxygen to the body’s tissues, causing severe pain and eventually stroke or organ damage says UIC News Center.