Her story: While in medical school at the University of California at Berkeley, Beatrice Gee became fascinated by blood disorders, and soon got interested in conditions that were not much on the radar of researchers, grant makers, or the public. That led to a lifetime of work in SCD—caring for children with the disease; conducting important research; running clinical trials; and educating and training students, physicians, and researchers—particularly those from underrepresented populations. Her 25 years of activism in the field has won her numerous kudos and honors.
Biggest challenge caring for patients: “We serve more impoverished parts of town, and sometimes it’s hard to get families to follow their treatment programs—they have so many competing concerns. So we have a lot of social workers going around trying to help people do the right thing—take their daily meds, come in for the correct appointments at the right time.”
Why focus on training minorities: “There’s lots of evidence that people of color feel more comfortable with health care providers who look similar to them. If we can train more to be interested in this field, it could make a big impact.”
Her frustration: “Sickle cell disease has been among the less popular diseases to rally around, so there’s been less public awareness and financial support for research and education efforts. That’s really challenging for families. They don’t see their faces on billboards.”
What keeps her going: “When things are piling up and the next day you see another kid doing okay and overcoming something—it’s worth coming back. I see kids who have gone through really challenging problems grow up and live productively as adults. Some of my former childhood patients are now counselors and role models.”
What excites her: “We’ve found a select group of genes that signal a high risk for stroke, and we’re hoping for a finer-tuned prediction of stroke.” Using models like that, “we can start early and not expose children to intensive treatments with a lot of side effects.”