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Sickle cell education goal of September events
By Doug Boyd
A hundred years after sickle-cell disease was identified, people around the world still suffer from its acute pains and chronic complications. Residents of eastern North Carolina are no different.
That’s one reason experts at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University are hosting a series of educational events where health care professionals and the public can learn more about the disease.
ECU’s sickle cell disease program is one of the largest in the state with approximately 900 patients, Fuh said. It provides adult and pediatric services as well as consultations for surrounding hospitals and physicians.
The centennial of the identification of sickle cell has added significance for ECU. Dr. Todd Savitt, a medical historian and faculty member at the Brody School of Medicine, wrote the 1989 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association that described the work Chicago physician James B. Herrick and his intern, Ernest E. Irons, did from 1904 to 1907 with patient William Clement Noel, a dental student from the island nation of Grenada. Herrick published about the new disease in 1910.
“The disease was around,” Savitt said. “Why was it diagnosed in this guy at that time and not someone else? “The disease had existed in many people before Noel,” Savitt said. “Why was it diagnosed in this guy at that time and not someone else? Noel was well educated and could give a good history to his physicians. He wasn’t the typical person of color from the South.”
Up until Savitt did the research to identify Noel as the first recorded patient in the medical literature, that first case was just that – a case, Savitt said. Knowing Noel’s identity shows that “in 1910, a real human being had this disease, and here’s who he was,” Savitt said. “It puts a human face on the origin of a disease that’s so devastating and has had such a rocky history in this country. He never knew he was the first sickle cell patient, and that’s sad.”
Savitt has also written about the second person diagnosed with the disease, Ellen Anthony. She was a black woman from Virginia who suffered for years without a definitive diagnosis, though doctors knew she had abnormal blood cells.
Savitt spoke at sickle cell conferences earlier this year in Florida, Grenada and Ghana.
The following sickle-cell educational lectures will occur in September. All events are at 7:30 a.m. in Room 2E-92 of the Brody Medical Sciences Building.
This story appeared originally in the Aug. 27, 2010 issue of Pieces of Eight. An archived version of that issue is available at http://www.ecu.edu/cs-admin/news/poe/2010/810/August-2010-Archives.cfm.