Ollie Green: thumbs up

An unrelated donor turned out to be a ‘perfect match’ for local sickle cell patient.

For the past 11 years, Ollie Green of New Iberia has had to worry about debilitating pain attacking his body at a moment’s notice. But soon, his pain may go away forever. On Feb. 24, Ollie underwent a bone marrow transplant in hopes of curing his sickle cell disease. It was the first time Children’s Hospital of New Orleans performed a BMT from an unrelated donor for a sickle cell patient.

As he prepared for the transplant, similar to a blood transfusion, Ollie described his feelings as akin to jitters before a football game. “I’m a little nervous,” he said, “but really excited.”

Ollie’s first memory of dealing with sickle cell disease was when he was 5 years old. “I missed my mom’s birthday,” says the 16-year-old. “Then I missed Mother’s Day and my birthday. I missed everything because I was in the hospital.”

Sickle cell is an inherited disease in which normal, disc-shaped red blood cells, which take blood to every part of the body, change into fragile crescent moons that resemble a sickle, a curved blade used to cut crops like wheat. Sickled cells often break into pieces, get caught in and block blood flow, causing severe pain crises and potential damage to organs, muscles and bones. In addition to bouts of pain — which may last for hours or for days — in the hands, feet, belly, back or chest, it can lead to infections, anemia and stroke. People with sickle cell disease often have anemia, caused by a shortage of red blood cells, which makes them weak and tired. The only physical sign might be a pale or washed out look and the whites of their eyes may have a yellow look of jaundice.

Ollie’s crises occurred as often as four times a month with pain so bad he would be hospitalized for two weeks at a time. It has caused him to miss school and the activities most youngsters take for granted. “There’s nothing I can do to ease his pain,” says Tanya Green, Ollie’s mother. “It’s so stressful and frustrating, being his mother and not being able to do anything. He’s had dose after dose of morphine to deal with the pain. It doesn’t take it away, but helps him cope. This bone marrow transplant is really going to make a life difference for us.”

For the past several years, Ollie has endured an eight-hour blood transfusion every 21 days to manage the effects of his disease. Within the next 14 to 28 days, doctors will be able to tell if the transplant was a success.

The hope is that the transplant “will take care of all of the pain he has,” says Dr. Lolie Yu, director of Children’s Hospital’s Hematology/Oncology department, bone marrow transplant program director and professor of pediatrics at LSU Health Sciences Center – New Orleans. “It’s unfortunate that some sickle cell patients suffer through this as much as he has, but he’s got a very positive attitude and tremendous support from his mom and dad. We’re all praying and wishing him the best.”

Yu says Ollie’s transplant is rare because sickle cell patients often have difficulty finding a donor whose blood marrow matches. “There have been around 20 sickle cell patients in the United States who have undergone this procedure with an unrelated donor,” she says. “This transplant is riskier than with related donors, but we’ve found a perfect match. And, hopefully, Ollie will soon be on his way to living life like a teenager.”

In the past, sickle cell patients often died from organ failure between 20 and 40 years old, but with better understanding and management of the disease, today patients can live into their 50s or beyond. Recent medical research has found that bone marrow or stem cell transplants can cure sickle cell anemia. However, transplants are not an option for most patients because of the difficulty in finding well-matched donors.

Ollie was admitted to Children’s Hospital Feb. 15 and will stay there while he recovers from the transplant. Because his associated radiation/chemotherapy treatment will reduce his ability to fight infection, he has been in isolation. To help him keep in touch with friends and family in New Iberia, Ollie’s parents bought him a mobile phone with face-to-face messaging. “It’s going to be tough to be in New Orleans and not be part of Carnival,” Ollie said as he entered the hospital, “but I’m looking forward to being finished with sickle cell and being able to play.”

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