[Narrator] Ieshea Thomas suffered her first
sickle cell crisis when she was 8 months old. Her disease became progressively worse as
an adult, especially after the birth of her daughter. Thomas has spent most of her adult
life in and out of hospitals getting blood transfusions and being treated for pain crises.
She’s suffered severe bone damage and she’s had two hip replacements. But Thomas’ life
is changing for the better. She’s the first patient in the Midwest to receive a successful
stem cell transplant to cure her sickle cell without the use of chemotherapy in preparation
for the transplant. [Damiano Rondelli] Bone marrow transplant
has been done before in sickle cell patients for many years with controversial success. The
normal process of the bone marrow transplant in the past was to give chemotherapy to the
patient to prepare the bone marrow for infusing the new stem cells to regenerate the blood.
Unfortunately the chemotherapy has been very toxic for these patients who are already sick. [Narrator] University of Illinois Hospital and
Health Sciences System physicians suppressed her immune system with medication and administered one
small dose of radiation just before the transplant. Neither chemotherapy nor radiation destroyed her
bone marrow so there’s less risk of infection. So far about 25 adults have received similar
transplants for sickle cell disease at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. Only
patients with a healthy sibling who’s a compatible donor can have the procedure. Thomas’ sister was
a match and she agreed to donate. The sister was given medicine to increase the number
of stem cells in her bloodstream, then her blood was processed through a machine for collection. With her daughter and parents at her bedside,
Thomas anxiously awaited the transplant. One by one the frozen bags of stem cells were
carefully placed in a warming bath to thaw, and then hung on an IV pole for the infusion.
The procedure took about one hour. [Damiano Rondelli] It was a very straightforward
and smooth process and she was very happy. [Narrator] It’s been six months since the transplant
and Ieshea Thomas is cured of her sickle cell disease. She no longer requires blood transfusions. Sickle cell
is a devastating disease both emotionally and physically but UI Hospital physicians believe chemotherapy-free
stem cell transplantation offers new hope. This is Sherri McGinnis-Gonzalez reporting
for UIC News.