New sickle cell treatment offers hope, possible cure

CHICAGO (WLS) -- There's new progress in the fight to cure sickle cell disease.

When ABC7's Terrell Brown first reported on Sickle Cell disease a year ago, patients were being cured without chemotherapy. Now, a new breakthrough called a "half match" offers hope to people who might have died from the disease just one year ago.

"I don't want her to die... because, you know, she was in so much pain," said mother Wanda Gregory.

Wanda's youngest daughter Amber Gregory was having sickle cell crisis.

"They sedated me because the pain was so bad, and, you know, after that I planned my funeral," said Amber Gregory.

The disease causes red blood cells to become crescent-shaped, like a sickle. The distorted cells can't adequately deliver oxygen to the body, which caused Amber's excruciating pain.

What happens if sickle cell disease goes untreated?

"When sickle cell goes untreated there could be organ damage to the heart, to the liver, to the lungs, to the kidney... That eventually will cause the death of the patient," said Dr. Damiano Rondelli, Hematology and Oncology at UI Health.

But Dr. Damiano Rondelli at University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago says the cure is here.

Until recently, for this transplant to work the blood cells between the donor and the patient had to be an exact match which is rare.

Nobody in Amber's family was an exact match for her.

But now with new advancements, Amber only needs half of her blood cells to match the donor which now means her sister, her aunts and just about everybody in her family can cure her sickle cell disease. Her mother ended up being the donor.

"I had to do it, and I was excited to do it for her," said Wanda Gregory.

After the procedure came the wait for results.

"And it's called a chimerism. And it lets you know-- it's a lab result and lets you know how much of the donor is in you," said Amber Gregory.

A month after receiving her mother's blood cells, Amber's nurse practitioner called to share the news.

"She said, 'I couldn't wait.' It was a weekend. I thought why is MaryAnn calling me on a weekend. And she said, 'I couldn't wait, I couldn't wait for your doctor's appointment. I had to call and let you know you are 100 percent mom!' I was like what!!! I hung up about to crash on the highway. It was just to hear that and I came home and I told my dad and he just... I just never thought that this would happen to me. Wow... Wow," said Amber.

Amber says she now has a burst of new energy and her pain attacks are gone. Treatments for sickle cell are getting better and better.

ABC7 will follow up as new sickle cell treatments come down the line.

For more information on UI Health and Sickle Cell disease call 312-413-8666 or visit:
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