Many people still believe that sickle cell disease is just a “Black people’s problem.”
But according to Dr. Jacob Pendegrast, a leading haematololgist at the Toronto General hospital who has been studying the disease, it also affects people of other ethnic groups.
He told nurses at a recent symposium that they will be encountering patients with the disease with increasing frequency.
He explained that although historically it is seen in Canada as a condition affecting Black people, it is the most common genetic disease in the world.
Dr. Pendergrast noted that two of his patients who are Italians have the disease.
He was speaking on “the pathophysiology and treatment” of the disease at the sixth annual Sickle Cell Disease symposium held at Humber College in Etobicoke.
In an interview with the Caribbean Camera after the symposium, Dr.Pendegrast said that historically, sickle cell disease has been ” a neglected condition within the medical profession in Canada and that’s really unfortunate.”
But people are now developing “more of an interest ” in this area of medicine, he noted.
Also addressing the symposium , Marcia Palmer, coordinator of the haemoglobinopathy program at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, said the most effective method of treating sickle cell disease is using what she called the “3P” – Pharmacological (medication), Physical (for example, relaxation, massage and exercise) and Psychological (for example, distractions such as reading or watching a movie).
Desrene Lewis-Matthew of Brampton, the mother of a ten-year old boy who was diagnosed with the disease at birth, told the symposium that ” he has to be kept hydrated to allow his blood to continue to be oxygenated.”
She explained that ” with a lack of oxygen in the blood, the red blood cells will get into sickle shape and then it is hard for them to pass through the veins.
” Sometimes they hook together and that causes a blockage and creates pain.
” We also have to be careful how he dresses in the winter. He is usually layered in more clothes than the average child when it is cold and we also have to keep him indoors as much as possible.”
She said, however, that he does take part in sports.
“He plays baseball and soccer but only indoors and his coaches know about his problem,”
” During the games we have to monitor him closely and give him a lot of rest.”
Jason Powell, Dean of Health Sciences at Humber College said that Janet Jeffery, professor of nursing, and Tiney Beckles, a lab instructor , organizers of the symposium, have been “remarkable champions for sickle cell education” in the province of Ontario.
Powell said that they had pointed out to him the need for information about sickle cell disease and suggested the symposium.
Beckles recalled that six years ago when it was first held “we had a small group of students and faculty and one speaker.
“I am proud that it has grown so well as we continue to educate new nurses about this disease.”