February 2, 2015

Dr. Ify Osunkwo - Changing the Face of Sickle Cell Disease

by Lauren Bailey

Dr. Ify Osunkwo, a specialist in hematology and Sickle Cell Disease at Levine Cancer Institute in Carolinas HealthCare System, makes it her mission to improve the quality of life for Sickle Cell patients.

Originally from Nigeria (where 150,000 babies are born with Sickle Cell Disease each year), she is intimately aware of the African American struggle with Sickle Cell Disease.  Dr. Ify came to Carolinas HealthCare System from Emory University in early 2014 and has created a comprehensive Sickle Cell center in Charlotte with doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists and case managers.

“You have to manage the patient as a whole person,” Osunkwo said. “You’re not just dealing with emergencies.”

Along with CBCC, Dr. Ify was the driving force behind the Carolinas Sickle Cell Collaborative.  She has worked tirelessly to educate and advocate for Sickle Cell Disease patients.  One of her focuses has been to explain the importance of receiving specially matched blood transfusions.  This special match needs to be even more specific than that of most other transfusion patients.  As she explained, the more transfusions a patient receives that do not meet these unique standards, the more chances that his/her body will create antibodies (which makes it even harder to find a match in future).  The more antibodies a patient has, the less likely their body is to accept the transfusion.  Rejections can not only cause even more pain, but can sometimes lead to death.  Therefore, it is vital to find this specially matched blood for each patient.  Since these matched donors are often African American, Dr. Ify encourages all healthy African Americans to donate blood with CBCC to meet this unique need.

Dr. Ify and her team help provide Sickle Cell Disease patients with the knowledge and resources to live full, long lives.  The Community Blood Center of the Carolinas helps match these patients with Sickle Cell Heroes - those hard to find matched blood donors.

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