I was born in Ghana, West Africa, with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). In 1995, I migrated to the United States, and in 2003, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). In 2010, I underwent stem cell transplantation, which cured me of SCD and MS. At the time, both diseases were understood to be incurable. Granted, stem cell transplantation was still in its experimental stage. However, I was fortunate to have received a two-for-one outcome. Having experienced this breakthrough cure, I have made it part of my life’s mission to promote bone marrow transplantation by highlighting how life-changing being a donor can be – for both the donor and the recipient.
Life with SCD and MS:
I had lived with SCD for almost 38 years; and had experienced multiple pain crises each month. MS flare ups and pain affected my life every day. Even though I carried the SCD, my whole family suffered through its events with me. As a woman, I dreaded each time I went through my menstrual cycle. Something that was a normal experience for most women was, for me, a pain crisis of one kind or another. After my MS diagnosis, I went through a period of time when I was angry at the world, angry at God and severely depressed. How was I ever to live a productive life? It seemed that there was no light at the end of the tunnel for me. I woke up in pain and went to bed in pain. The list of medications I was taking was quite lengthy; and I struggled to maintain a part-time job.
Thanks to stem cell transplantation, my life has changed dramatically. So many of the things I am able to engage in now, not too long ago, I could not have done. Although I had heard of Stem Cell Transplantation being a possible cure for SCD, I never dreamed I would even be considered a candidate for this procedure. I never thought I would have the opportunity to undergo such a ground- breaking procedure.
In 2010, after a series of testing of my parents and siblings, I was informed that my mother was a match for the bone marrow transplant. It was an exciting day for us. Although she shared with me how happy and grateful she was to have this opportunity to be part of a cure for me, I can only imagine the anxiety she had when considering the possibility that the transplant might not work. My mother and I have great faith and we placed our complete trust in God.
The momentous day occurred on November 18, 2010. It was a day like any other for most people. But for me, it was the day that would change my life forever. This life, which had been filled with pain and struggles, was about to end. I was aware of the complications that could arise, and of the possibility of rejection. I tried to think positively and not dwell on the negative aspects of this process.
As the cells made their way into my veins on that day, I knew my life would not be the same. After being in the hospital for weeks, I was told that not only had the bone marrow cured the SCD, it had also cured the MS. A neurologist confirmed this to me months later.
I have since been able to live a productive life without pain or flare ups of MS. Not only do I have a full-time job and I am also able to engage in activities I could never have imagined myself doing before. I have been living on my own for the last five years and am able to walk several miles a day. I am excited about the possibilities life has to offer, and I am most grateful to science. New developments in science, specifically the important advancements in gene therapy, are what have brought me to this place – to this life that is free of pain, numbness, and depression. I encourage people to be donors because you never know what a difference you could make in someone’s life.