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Baby Hemoglobin: September, 29, 20111

Being in elementary school brings back painful memories for Lester Denson.

“I always used to ask my mom - why I feel kinda like, kinda weird like hurting inside all the joints or something.”

Lester was born with sickle cell anemia.

“When I got about, I say in the fourth grade, I had a blood transfusion.”

Sickle cell is a blood disease passed down through families in which there are not enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen through the body.

The disease gets its name because patients’ red blood cells will change into a sickle, or half moon shape when they get into a crisis period.

“When they become sickle shaped they are really very rigid so they don’t flow very well through your blood vessels. It can be severely painful and that pain could last for days,” says Dr. Emad Salman, pediatric oncologist/hematologist with the Lee Memorial Health System.

The only drug treatment for sickle cell is called Hydroxyurea.

“It increases the amount of what we call baby hemoglobin F, F stands for fetal. We noticed that when you have an increase amount of baby hemoglobin within your red cells, it protects you; you don’t sickle as often,” says Dr. Salman.

First used in leukemia, it’s a form of chemotherapy. Now approved for adults, Lester tried it with much success.

“When it first came out it was a breakthrough. It was like the one of the drugs they said well you should try this because you wont be sickling so much.”

Hydroxyurea is in clinical trials for children. Results are promising.

“We’ve noticed that, the number of times they need to be in the hospital has decreased by over 50%. Some of them have really gone one or two years without being in the hospital; these were kids in the hospital five to ten times year for pain crisis,” says Dr. Salman.

It may make the pains of childhood, much easier.