A new machine that can help replace affected red cells for patients with sickle cell disease has been installed at Queen’s Hospital. 

The ‘Spectra Optia Apheresis’ system removes and replaces the bad blood cells to reduce the need for ‘top up’ transfusions, help manage pain and lower the risk of crisis.

It is managed by the hospital’s lead nurse for haemoglobinopathy, Deo Boodoo, who cares for 350 adults and 350 children with the disease.

“The new device expands red cell exchange,” he explained. “It will help widen our red cell exchange service, including children living with sickle cell.

“It’s important to raise awareness in the population about sickle cell to reduce the health inequalities and to know if you are a carrier as parents can pass the gene to their children.

“This is an inherited condition mainly affecting the Afro-Caribbean black community — but has also been detected in other ethnic groups. We are now seeing genes in groups apart from Afro-Caribbean.”

The hospital offers antenatal screening. Women at risk of having a baby with sickle cell can also get a pre-natal diagnosis to make informed decisions.

Two patients at different stages of treatment have spoken about what sickle cell is like and its impact on their lives.

Care worker Mega Kagbare, a 23-year-old from Ilford who was diagnosed at nine months old, said: “Sometimes I feel too weak even to get out of bed. It affects my appetite and I have to force myself to eat to take my medication. The pain affects every aspect of my life.”

The condition hits people differently, even within a family.

“My sister has sickle cell and has regular blood transfusions,” Mega added. “But I’ve had just one transfusion in my whole life.”

There are two main treatments. Mega is on the hydroxycarbamide drug. The other treatment is the ‘red cell exchange’ transfusion where blood cells are removed and replaced.

Temitayo Aroyewun, a 46-year-old accountant who was diagnosed at birth, is on the blood cell exchange treatment. He was recently admitted to hospital unrelated to sickle cell, which made him appreciate how far he had progressed in his treatment.

He recalled: “I was kept in a bubble as a child but tested my boundaries as I got older and got used to manging my condition. I live a mostly ‘normal’ life now.”

Temitayo spent 10 years on hydroxycarbamide before switching to blood transfusions and now has red cell exchange transfusions. The new equipment at Queen’s has opened a new chapter to sufferers like him.