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Determination, Great Care keep Sickle Cell in check

Dr. Morgan McLemore chats with Hakeem Rhodes during a routine check-up in the Sickle Cell Center.

For about two years, Hakeem Rhodes has been coming to the Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at Grady for care. The University of West Georgia student was diagnosed with sickle cell disease (SCD) when he was three years old, and has learned how to face debilitating challenges associated with the disease by adhering to treatment plans, and developing a steely outlook.

“I wake up every day in a great mood because I’m not just surviving, I’m thriving. I’ve made it this far, and I do what I can to take better care of myself. It’s nothing I can’t live with,” Rhodes said.

Dr. Morgan McLemore, the center’s medical director, said Rhodes is a model of compliance, but not all patients have access to care or the mental fortitude to cope with the physical and psychological burdens of SCD.

“Compliance is a huge issue in sickle cell, but it’s not all the fault of patients. Treating this disease is grueling, and it takes a physical and emotional toll that can be a lot to bear,” McLemore said.

McLemore is hopeful the pharmaceutical industry’s recent interest in the inherited blood disorder will positively impact patients.

“In the past two years, Grady has participated in three national clinical trials, with two more coming up in the next year. I’m hopeful this move results in new drugs and new treatments, which will translate into better compliance, pain reduction, improved quality of life, and survival.”

McLemore described SCD as a serious illness that’s often forgotten about and underfunded compared to other hereditary disorders, but Grady continues to invest in expanding the center’s resources.

“We have increased the number of physicians, and nurse practitioners, while adding the latest procedures as treatment options for patients at-risk for strokes.”

Rhodes is comfortable and confident in the care he receives every two weeks.

“The care here is consistent, and it’s good to have people who always know what’s going on with you because they’ve seen it all. They always know what to do,” Rhodes said.   

More info: Grady’s Sickle Cell Center opened in 1984, and is the world’s first 24-hour, seven days a week comprehensive primary care clinic for adult patients with sickle cell syndromes. It is designed to fully evaluate sickle cell emergencies quickly and efficiently, and has become an international model in how to care for sickle cell patients. It sees more than 4000 patients per year.