Sickle cell disease is a ‘neglected condition’ – Toronto hemotologist

Tiney Beckles, Dr. Jacob Pendegrast, Sylivia Wojtalik and Janet Jeffrey.

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.”