Dr. Lester Fleming is learning to be a pilot —something he once thought would never be possible. Fleming was born with sickle cell disease, a red blood cell deficiency.
“I could never make long term plans that required a long term commitment because I never thought I’d be around for that long,” said Fleming.
But then he heard that a team led by Dr. John Tisdale at the National Institutes of Health was performing experimental blood stem cell transplants for sickle cell—using stem cells from healthy siblings.
There have been about 200 transplants in children — whose immune systems are more receptive.
But it had not worked in adults who often suffer the worst symptoms, until the NIH team learned how to tweak the immune system.
In the first ten patients reported today, the results have been spectacular in nine. The distinctive sickle shape red blood cells that don’t carry oxygen properly simply disappear, along with all of the harsh symptoms of the disease.
“We’re hesitant to use the word cure, but they’re certainly free of sickle cell disease now, they are no longer in the hospital, no longer requiring pain medications, chronic pain medications for the frequent pain crisis patients suffer,” said Dr. Tisdale.
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The procedure could soon help thousands of adults with sickle cell and people with many different inherited blood disorders
Lester Fleming has no problem calling it a cure –
“I am going to travel, I am going to fly, I am going to be a better friend, I am going to be a better boyfriend,” said Fleming.
He and his girlfriend Dionne Mackey are building a house together — preparing for a life without boundaries.