Brenda Martin
Today's Faces of Sickle Cell Disease
Brenda Martin

Nurse practitioner at Children’s National Medical Center (CNMC), research investigator

Her story: When Brenda Martin began her career in neonatal nursing in the mid-1990s, she met two little girls in a New York hospital who had SCD “and just fell in love with them.” Almost instantly, she decided she wanted to help find ways to help young patients deal with the debilitating illness. Over the years, she joined key research studies, including those looking at stroke prevention in children and the use of hydroxyurea on infants. All the while, Martin continued her pediatric nursing work, and to this day, she splits her time between working as a nurse in the sickle cell program at CNMC and as an investigator on the hydroxyurea study (known as “Baby Hug”).

Why she loves her work: “I’m in this field to relieve pain and suffering, and I do think I’m making a difference. I always tell my parents that this baby is my baby, too, and we’re going to go through this journey together. So when my babies leave, they always send me letters and pictures when they graduate. They know Miss Brenda, even if they don’t know my last name!”

Biggest challenge: Getting insurance companies to recognize the benefit of alternative treatments that can help with pain and anxiety. “They will let me prescribe all kinds of opioids, but when I ask them to pay for acupuncture or massage or mindfulness class, they say, ‘Oh, that hasn’t been proven yet.’ But we know it works.”

What she’s thrilled about: “I am so proud we now have an Integrative Sickle Cell Pain Clinic, where we introduce non-pharmacological interventions to our patients. In addition to acupuncture, they get to experience healing touch, physical therapy, aromatherapy and psychology therapy, and I provide the sickle cell intervention. It is a comprehensive clinic which I know will help my patients use less opioids for pain management.”

Her dream: “The highest mortality from this disease is in infants, and that’s just not right. We need more advocates for these families because they’re just trying to get by day to day. We need the funding that so many of the other chronic illnesses get. And we need more research, because that’s the only way we’re going to get a cure.”

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