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Sickle-cell sufferer goes back to school

Raising awareness: Adrian Warner, treasurer of Bermuda Sickle Cell Association and Jeanne Atherden, the Minister of Health, with the BHB’s new sickle-cell machine

As a teenager, he had to give up his university career due to illness — but now Adrian Warner is finally packing his bags and ready to resume studying once again.

A sufferer of sickle-cell anaemia, Mr Warner’s studies in Canada were cut short by a “severe crisis” characterised by acute chest syndrome and lung failure that saw him hospitalised for a number of weeks.

The continuation of his health problems meant that Mr Warner had to return home, with his academic life effectively put on hold.

Now, after spending time raising awareness on sickle- cell anaemia in Bermuda, Mr Warner is about to embark on a course in venture management and entrepreneurship at the University of London.

Reflecting on his journey back to college, Mr Warner told The Royal Gazette yesterday: “At the end of the day you have to chalk it up to a learning experience, but you know here I am at 25 and getting ready to start college all over again.

“One of the difficult things is, the college years seem to be a kind of hazard area for people with sickle cell. People tend to go away, get into things, get sick, don’t finish their schooling and then aren’t able to find white collar work, which is something that people with sickle cell should be doing because somebody with sickle cell can’t be out working construction from 7am to 6pm everyday. They just can’t.”

The physical limitations of the condition make this impossible. Mr Warner said the struggle for sickle cell patients is not only a physical one, but a financial crisis.

“The problem we’ve been trying to tackle for the past couple years is the ‘Exjade issue’,” Mr Warner said.

Exjade is an iron chelator that is administered alongside transfusion protocol to cut down on the unavoidable iron overload. At approximately $63 a 500mg pill and an average dosage of about 1.5 to 2 grams a day, they come at a high cost.

Mr Warner is currently taking six of these a day. “I’m kind of a special case on the extreme high end of the spectrum,” he said.

“But even so, for someone who’s on HIP [Health Insurance Plan] and trying to pay approximately 180 dollars a day in medication, it’s just unbelievably exorbitant.

“The biggest issue comes with people being underemployed. Sick people sometimes can’t find full employment just because they can’t work on a full-time basis.

“Being under employed and sick means you’re underinsured, which means when you’re being treated for being sick you’re getting huge medical bills,” Mr Warner explains.

As treasurer and a founding member of the Sickle Cell Association, he is working toward getting government support for fellow “sicklers”.

“The vehicle’s already in place but the problem is that we’re not a ‘National Health Crisis’.”

He said the Bermuda Government already subsidises treatments for some serious illnesses and he is hoping it will do the same for sickle-cell anaemia.

One added bonus of his stay in Britain, he added, would be the National Health System.

“That’s sort of one beautiful benefit of being in the UK,” Mr Warner said. “I was in Canada before and everything kind of fell on my father’s insurance, but most people don’t have that luxury.”

Mr Warner made headway with his fundraising efforts, bringing the Spectra Optia therapeutic apheresis machine to King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEMH).

The new machine, which extracts and filters blood, was unveiled at King Edward Memorial Hospital last week for Sickle Cell Awareness month. The Optia is now “the global standard” for transfusion therapy and he will continue to benefit from these treatments in London.