Back to School with COVID and Sickle Cell? What Students Need to Know
The decision about sending kids to schools or having them learn remotely is difficult enough right now. The country continues to battle with the COVID crisis, and hybrid solutions with remote learning some days and in-person on other days.
Now – imagine if your child or young adult heading off to college (if possible) has sickle cell disease and all the precautions that go along with that condition.
Major transitions are particularly challenging for those with compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses, such as young people living with sickle cell disease (SCD), a lifelong inherited blood disorder that mainly impacts African Americans and minorities. Complicating matters, people with SCD are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and they are subject to stigma in healthcare settings due to cultural barriers and misinformation, which makes it difficult for them to get the care they need.
Young adults with Sickle Cell Disease face a critical period of transition as they move from pediatric to adult care and will now have even more weighing on their minds as they continue to work to protect their health. Whether they are heading off to college or preparing for this phase while they are still in high school, here are a few tips to help people with SCD and their families manage this transition period during the pandemic:
- Know what to look for in your new medical team, like a doctor who is knowledgeable about SCD
- Be prepared to speak openly with doctors about your experience with SCD and medical history
- Take advantage of telemedicine to continue seeing your doctor while staying safe from COVID-19
- Develop healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating nutritious food and drinking enough water
- Find a virtual or in-person patient support group or community-based organization
Dr. Wanda Whitten-Shurney, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan and CEO of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America (Michigan chapter), provides her expertise on why it is so important for young adults with SCD to stay up to date with their medical care while going back to school. Inspired by her father, the late Dr. Charles Whitten, one of the great pioneers in SCD, Dr. Shurney is dedicated to guiding patients as they move from pediatric to adult care and providing helpful resources, such as how to find a new support system virtually or on campus, to help ease the transition process.
Additionally, KC Morse, who grew up with SCD and is now a middle school teacher, shares her experience transitioning to adult care. She also faced challenges associated with misconceptions about SCD, including facing racism during her care and being labeled a “drug seeker” when she sought help. Because of these experiences, KC has become an SCD advocate and proactively manages her disease with the latest knowledge and innovations. Here she shares her story, and the healthy habits that helped with her transition to adult care, as part of her efforts to support others in the SCD community.