Sickle cell patients benefit from new treatments

Veronique Mwembo has lost count of the times she has been hospitalised with severe pain.

Since the age of three, she has had regular emergency admissions to hospital as a result of sickle cell disease.

But the 29-year-old, from Norwich, says she has new hope after becoming the first patient in Norfolk to receive a new treatment from the NHS to help keep her condition under control.

Crizanlizumab is an intravenous antibody therapy and is the first new treatment in more than 20 years for people living with sickle cell.

Veronique will receive the treatment every month, which takes about 45 minutes, to prevent episodes of pain and other complications for people living with sickle cell.

She said: “I am told it is going to take a bit of time and the treatment makes me feel a bit tired. I’m feeling much better and this treatment gives me a lot of hope. Hopefully it is going to make a big difference to my quality of life.

“It will not take sickle cell away, but it will keep it stable and hopefully I will not need to depend on pain killers.”

Sickle cell disease is the name for a group of inherited health conditions that affect the haemoglobin molecules in red blood cells, causing red cells to become stiff and stuck in the smallest blood vessels. It is a serious and lifelong health condition, although treatment can help manage many of the symptoms.

Veronique added: “When I have a severe crisis, I end up going to hospital in an ambulance most of the time when this happens. Sometimes I can manage some of the pain at home with medication, but the pain can come on very quickly and I can get shortness of breath.

“I have been in hospital more times than I would like and most of the times it happens in the winter or when I am working or stressed. There are times when sickle cell takes away your identity and looking on the bright side, we can do all the things that normal people can do and the treatment is not a big risk.”

Suzanne Docherty, Haematology Consultant, said it was a “delight” to start using Crizanlizumab. She has also recently started other sickle cell patients on a new oral medication, Voxelotor, which helps red blood cells take up oxygen.

“We have had so little to offer sickle cell patients for such a long time, and it’s really exciting to have these new therapies being offered at our hospital,” she said.

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