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Patient gives thanks on blood donor day

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Regular red cell exchange transfusions are keeping Shevaughn Young alive.

The mother of two has sickle-cell anaemia and started the blood transfusions in October 2013 after suffering a second stroke.

“Sickle-cell is a disease that you get from both your mum and your dad, where your blood does not flow as normal,” the 44-year-old explained.

“Normal blood cells are round like doughnuts and sickle-cell cells deflate very quickly. They're shaped like a sickle, like a bow and arrow. They can travel through your body but sometimes they get stuck and that's when you have a crisis.”

Ms Young, of Hamilton Parish, was born with the disease, which was diagnosed when she was about 2½ years old.

“My parents actually found out because I had spinal meningitis and they ran all sorts of tests,” Ms Young said.

As a child, she spent a lot of time in the hospital.

“I was sheltered a lot,” she added. “I couldn't do a lot of things that I wanted to do. I couldn't do it because of the illness.”

While she mainly suffered from fatigue, her health could quickly take a turn for the worse.

“You can be fine one day and the next day you're out of it. You have so much pain. It just comes up.”

She started the exchange transfusions, which replace her red blood cells with red cells that have the correct haemoglobin levels, to prevent her from having another stroke or losing her life.

Ms Young has to go for the treatment, which takes about 90 minutes thanks to new equipment brought in last year, every six weeks to manage the disease.

“I don't want to die,” Ms Young said. “I'd rather do whatever I have to to stay alive. I have two young girls I have to take care of.”

According to Eyitayo Fakunle, consultant haematologist at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, some complications from sickle-cell anaemia can be treated with simple transfusions where patients are given red blood cells that raise the haemoglobin to normal levels. But in some circumstances, red cell exchange transfusions are needed.

“The complication she developed was a stroke and she's had it three times now,” Dr Fakunle said. “I met her at the time when she had the second stroke.

“When you develop that complication, to treat it at the initial stage you need an exchange transfusion immediately,” he said, adding that the treatment continues for the rest of a patient's life.

“If they don't have the exchange transfusion, the risk of developing another stroke is 70 per cent in three years for most patients.”

The transfusions can keep all of the complications associated with the disease at bay and patients “are expected to live a normal life with little to no symptoms from the sickle-cell disease”.

While the amount of blood units needed and the frequency of treatments varies from patient to patient, Dr Fakunle said each sickle-cell patient who receives exchange transfusions needs about 20 to 30 donors.

As Bermuda marks World Blood Donor Day today, Dr Fakunle is appealing for new donors and particularly young people to give blood consistently.

According to Dr Fakunle, Bermuda needs about 2,000 units of blood per year.

“We are reaching the 2,000 but we need to continue to look for new donors,” Dr Fakunle said, adding that a lot of donors are retiring or being deferred for various reasons.

He added that there were about 1,150 to 1,160 active donors in 2013 and 2014, but this dropped to 970 last year.

“When we started the red cell exchange for the sickle-cell patients, we realised that we needed more new donors to get specific types of these sickle-cell patients' blood type,” he said.

“We call those donors when they are needed, which is a fantastic thing that the donors are doing.

“These are volunteer donors. You call them anytime and they are in the hospital to donate. This is part of the reason why we want to say a big thank you to them. Ms Young also thanked all the donors who make her treatment possible.

Going through treatment: Eyitayo Fakunle, consultant haematologist at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, and Shevaughn Young. (Photograph supplied)
Eyitayo Fakunle, consultant haematologist at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. (Photograph supplied)
A life saved: Shevaughn Young

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Published June 14, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated June 14, 2016 at 7:36 am)

Patient gives thanks on blood donor day

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