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Raising awareness of Sickle Cell disease | Health

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Raising awareness of Sickle Cell disease
Health
Raising awareness of Sickle Cell disease

Eric Foster, 21, is a college student whose goal is a career in health care. He works out at the gym most days of the week and played youth and high school sports.

You would never guess that he has a serious health condition. And that's okay with him.

"I really don't tell people I have it," said Foster, who serves as a volunteer at the Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center. “I don't think most people know about it or that it affects a lot of people.”

When Foster was a baby, he was diagnosed with sickle cell disease. It's a condition that affects 100,000 people in the country.  African American infants are at especially high risk for inheriting the sickle cell trait. He has one of four types known as beta thalassemia.

Sickle cell disease changes normal, round red blood cells into cells that are shaped more like crescent moons. They can get stuck and block blood vessels, which stops the oxygen from getting through. It can be a painful disease and can cause a host of other problems including infections and possibly stroke. Blood transfusions may be used to prevent strokes and reduce the risk of some complications.

In California, all newborns are tested for sickle cell disease before they leave the hospital.

Eric’s mother, Cindy Foster, who works in the South Sacramento Medical Center EKG department, said she didn't know much about sickle cell disease at the time her son was diagnosed. She soon discovered the impact it would have, not just on Eric, but on the whole family.

"He would get acute chest syndrome where he couldn't breathe. He used inhalers and nebulizers. He had to get blood transfusions once a week,” she said. Members of the family donated blood regularly. Eric was in the hospital almost once a month when he was a child.

Stephen Wang, MD, Chief of Hematology and Oncology at Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento, said sickle cell is treated with Hydroxyurea, a medication to reduce sickling of the red blood cells, as well as pain relievers.

"The life span of patients has increased due to better supportive care, but complications remain challenging," he added.

Dr. Wang said providers are always looking for the best ways to treat sickle cell chronic pain and flares, which he said is not quite the same as other pain.

Thanks to medication, Eric Foster is able to live a relatively normal and active life. In addition to school and staying physically active, he enjoys volunteering in the medical center.

Both Foster and his mother would like to help increase awareness of the disease — seeing more people donate blood and get screened for the bone marrow transplant registry.

"I feel like if someone [with this condition] hears my story and sees me being active then I can be a role model, encouraging them to strive and showing them things can get better," said Foster.

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