Strangers save life of sickle cell patient

By Britney Glaser - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Sickle cell disease is an inherited, lifelong blood disorder that affects red blood cells. Complications from this disease can result in blood transfusions, hospitalization - in some cases, even death. In this Healthcast, we find out how complete strangers were able to save one woman's life when a sickle cell crisis arose.

This hospital visit for Nita Johnson is a completely different experience than what she had over the course of the summer.  "I started running fever," she says, "I had all kinds of infections. It turned from a week to 2 1/2 months in the hospital."

A sickle cell crisis initially put Nita in the hospital, but that was nothing new for this wife and mom of three who has lived with the disease since birth.  "Sickle cell disease involves pain, having blood transfusions, being tired," says Nita.

But when her pain, fever and infections only worsened at the hospital - Nita knew the outlook was grim.  "Me, my family, my closest friends - we were all worried," she says, "because the doctors had told them to get all of the family together because there was nothing else that they could do for me."

When Nita's blood count dropped dangerously low in August, another obstacle arose with finding a donor match.  Lake Charles Memorial Hospital Blood Bank Supervisor Julie Flaherty says, "Nita actually has a rare phenotype and it requires us to do a nationwide search, because actually less than 1 in 1,200 O+ patients are compatible with her."

Flaherty and her team worked quickly to find the blood that could be Nita's lifeline.  "The blood was found in Las Vegas and in Albuquerque, New Mexico," says Flaherty, "and in one instance, they actually had to drive across town to the FedEx office and deliver it at an odd hour just to get it here in time for her to get the transfusion."

Without the transfusion, Nita could have died. She hopes that telling her story will inspire someone to give the gift of life to someone else in need.  "It saves a life," says Nita, "whether if you match will match somebody out there!"

Now, Nita's happy to walk the hallways of a hospital she called "home" for two months - with a new outlook, but her same strong spirit.  "I'm a fighter," says Nita.

*The national network of blood donors was a possible search base for Nita because of United Blood Services. Sickle cell disease can be detected with a simple, painless blood test.

**Your opportunity to be a hero to someone like Nita is coming up next Monday, September 28th at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital. United Blood Services will be having a blood drive from 2:00 P.M. until 6:00 P.M.

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