NHLBI Director Dr. Gary H. Gibbons recently sat down to discuss sickle cell disease and research advances into the condition with radio host Willie Moore. Below is a transcript of the interview:
Willie Moore (Host): And family right now our guest tonight is Dr. Gary Gibbons, he’s the director of the [National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.] He is here to talk about sickle cell disease and how research is helping us imagine a cure for the disease which primarily affects African-Americans. So listen, I want you to get familiar, he is a part of the National Institute of Health, it’s the nation’s research agency of Heart Lung and Blood Disease and Conditions and Sleep Disorders. What’s going on Dr. Gibbons, How you doing sir?
Dr. Gary Gibbons: I’m doing well, thank you. I really appreciate this opportunity to discuss sickle cell disease with you, Willie.
Willie Moore: Indeed. It is truly my, truly my pleasure. Sickle cell disease is very prevalent in African -American communities. Can you tell us what sickle cell disease is and what percentage of, African-Americans have sickle cell disease and the disease effect.
Dr. Gary Gibbons: Right, well actually September is Sickle Cell Disease Awareness Month and the NHLBI which is part of the National Institutes of Health. I would like to continue to raise awareness and communicate our ongoing commitment to transforming the lives of patients who live with this serious blood disorder.
Willie Moore: Wow
Dr. Gary Gibbons: Sickle cell disease is rare, but it is one of the most common of the rare diseases affecting particularly the African-American community about 90-100 thousand people in the United States typically of African ancestry are affected by the disease. This is a disorder that is passed down through the DNA from parent to child in which the child gets the defective copies of the hemoglobin gene and the job of hemoglobin is to carry oxygen to all the tissues of your body. So if you have this sickle hemoglobin, your body will not get the oxygen, the life giving oxygen it needs to function properly. That’s why this can be such a devastating disorder because it affects nearly every organ in the body, the heart, the lung, the kidney and the brain and it can really cause major complications including stroke or heart failure.
Willie Moore: Wow, if you just now tuning in the voice that you are hearing in none other than our brother, Dr. Gary Gibbons, he is the director of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. So doc, I want to ask you this how does somebody know if he or she has sickle cell disease and what are some of the medical problems caused by sickle cell?
Dr. Gary Gibbons: Sure. In the United States, fortunately screening test are conducted in all newborn babies to determine if the child has sickle cell disease.
Willie Moore: That’s great
Dr. Gary Gibbons: So this is something that the parents will be informed of right away. And because sickle hemoglobin is unable to carry the oxygen to the tissues, sickle cell can affect children in a number of ways. For example, the lack of oxygen can impair brain development and even cause a stroke where part of the brain actually tissue dies. We tend to often think about strokes affecting elderly individuals in their 70s but we now know how disabling a stroke can be to our seniors. Yet, Willie, imagine how harmful a stroke could be for a child, a seven year old with sickle cell disease.
Willie Moore: Wow
Dr. Gary Gibbons: In fact, stroke is amongst the leading causes of pediatric death in this country. And in African-Americans the leading cause of stroke among children is sickle cell disease. In studies that the NHLBI is funded, we can see signs of damage being done from a stroke in about 1 in 4 children who had sickle cell disease. So this is really a devastating complication of this disorder.
Willie Moore: Wow, Dr. Gary Gibbons, he’s the director of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and this month, September is Sickle Cell Awareness Month and so where can I found out more about sickle cell disease. Where can we go online, or wherever we can go to find out more about sickle cell disease.
Dr. Gary Gibbons: Well, one other point, I would make about how the Willie Moore family could participate is in sickle cell disease there is a tremendous need for repeated blood transfusion and something that practically every member of your listening audience can do is to be a blood donor. This is a lifesaving gift to patients with sickle cell disease. And as you might know, that about 5 % of eligible Americans donate blood, but that percentage is only about 1% amongst the African-American community. This is something that each of your listeners can probably help and make a big impact on a patient with sickle cell disease. If they want to find out more, they can just come to our website and found out more information.
Willie Moore: Indeed, thank you so much for checking in Dr. Gary Gibbons, he’s the director of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute and make sure you log onto NHLBI.NIH.GOV again that’s NHLBI.NIH.GOV for more information on sickle cell. Thank you for checking in doc, I truly appreciate it.
Dr. Gary Gibbons: We appreciate the opportunity. Thank you Willie.
Willie Moore: Indeed, have a blessed one my friend.
Dr. Gary Gibbons: You too.
Learn more about Willie Moore Jr’s radio program “The Nightly Spirit with Willie Moore Jr.”: http://www.williemoorejr.org/#!home/mainPage
Interview Aired 9/14/2015
Audio courtesy of Reach Media, Inc.