Teen with 20% chance of surviving beats sickle cell, heads to Harvard to study medicine

An estimated 70,000 to 100,000 Americans suffer from sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder.

Hanif Mouehla was 8 years old when diagnosed with sickle cell disease. At the time, doctors said he had a 20% chance of surviving — but he ultimately beat the odds, People reports. 

Now at age 17, the teenager is on track to study medicine at Harvard University. 

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A view of the campus of Harvard University on July 8, 2020, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

“I would say that from a young age I was strictly focused on medicine and becoming a doctor,” Mouehla, who recently graduated from Northern Valley Regional High School at Old Tappan in New Jersey, shared with People. 

According to the outlet, Mouehla was placed in a coma as a young boy after both lungs collapsed due to complications from the debilitating disease. An experimental stem cell transplant from pediatric hematology-oncology specialist Dr. Mitchell Cairo ultimately saved his life. 

As People reports, Mouehla received treatment from Dr. Cairo nearly a decade ago. His research allowed Hanif to receive a haploidentical stem cell transplant from his mother since none of the boy’s siblings matched.

For the mother’s cells to successfully destroy sickle cells in her son’s bloodstream, they were first “supercharged” in Dr. Cairo’s lab, People reports. After nearly six months of treatment, the doctor said Mouehla was “relatively out of the woods and stable.”

The teenager’s cell disease therapy is currently in the second phase of a clinical trial, but People reports that he is cured of sickle cell.

“It’s been a wonderful journey after Hanif had been cured,” the boy’s mother, Khuraira Musa, told People. “I only wish all parents to have what I have with Hanif today.”

As a result of the experience, Mouehla decided to pursue a career in medicine, and Dr. Cairo now serves as his boss. Mouehla joined the doctor’s research lab last summer to help find a cure for sickle cell disease. In December, Mouehla learned he gained admission into Harvard.

“Watching the medical center as a whole, that was something I really wanted to emulate and caused me to want to [choose] medicine, specifically being a hematologist,” Mouehla explained to People.

Dr. Cairo calls Mouehla’s transformation “one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had,” he told People.

“And of course, you get a transformation like where now he wants to pay it forward … it’s not easy to get into Harvard,” the doctor added.

Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder estimated to affect 70,000 to 100,000 Americans. As theGrio previously reported, the disease impacts the Black community significantly. It occurs in 1 out of every 365 Black or African-American births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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