Sickle Cell Means Managing Pain 24/7

Morning, noon, and night Nikki Peterson experiences varying levels of pain, according to an online article in The Root.
The pain affects her mood and how she approaches every day. What would cause this 43-year-old woman to be in such excruciating pain every day? It’s a result of her lifelong struggle with sickle cell anemia.

Sickle cell anemia is an inherited disorder that affects red blood cells. The disease name comes from the shape the red blood cells take on as they become misshaped into sickles, a C-shaped farm tool. The odd-shaped cells stick and block blood flow, slowing down the flow of oxygen and causing extreme pain. With less blood going to certain parts of the body, tissues are damaged and the pain takes hold. Sickle cell primarily affects people of African descent.

For Peterson, a good year is when the pain only puts her in the hospital four times over 12 months. A typical month is when she’s in the hospital having every last drop of blood taken from her body where her platelets and platelets are removed and then returned to her blood supply. She then sits through the transfusion of up to 12 units of packed red blood cells. How long does the process take? Two days. In addition to relieving some of her pain, the process also helps prevent strokes and additional symptoms.

This is “all in a day’s work” for this sickle cell patient. She doesn’t know life any other way, and the pain fills every waking and sleeping moment. Blood treatments and pain medications do help most patients manage the discomfort.

Peterson considers herself a voice for sickle cell patients in the US and throughout the world. To read more about Nikki Peterson’s reflections on the past and future of sickle cell research and treatments, click here.

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