James R. Eckman, MD, professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, professor of hematology/oncology at the Emory Winship Cancer Institute, and medical director of the Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center at Grady Memorial Hospital, was publicly honored in the Senate Chambers of the Georgia General Assembly with a special resolution on March 30. Dr. Eckman was presented with Senate Resolution No. 1385, sponsored by Senator Gloria S. Butler of the 55th District, highlighting his dedication to sickle cell patient care and newborn screening.
The resolution praises Dr. Eckman's dedication, outstanding leadership and significant contributions to sickle cell care by establishing a sickle cell program at Grady Hospital and at the Emory University School of Medicine. "With few resources, Dr. Eckman obtained grant funding to support the salaries of a genetics nurse, a social worker, and a clinical nurse specialist in psychiatry as the beginning of a multidisciplinary team to treat sickle cell disease," the Senate Resolution reads. "It wasn't long before lobbying efforts by sickle cell patients and parents and hospital administration eventually convinced the Georgia General Assembly of the need for a specialized clinic in the state of Georgia."
In 1984, the Georgia General Assembly provided the original state grant of $550,000 to Grady Hospital to fund the world's first 24-hour comprehensive acute sickle cell center.
Dr. Eckman says he was surprised, yet extremely grateful, for the Senate Resolution.
"This was a wonderful honor for me and for all of the dedicated health professionals at Grady Hospital that provide excellent care to this deserving and under-served patient population," he says. "While significant advances have been made in sickle cell research and treatment, there remains a great need to develop newer and better therapies for people whose lives are impacted by this disease every day. Seeing the devastating effects sickle cell can cause is what keeps me professionally and personally devoted to studying this complicated disease and offering the best possible care to patients."
Under Dr. Eckman's leadership, the Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center has cared for more than 2,000 patients, expanded its scope of services, and is now an international leader in the care of sickle cell patients. The staff at the Georgia Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center has participated in a number of clinical research projects that have both increased the understanding of the disease and led to improvements in patient care.
ABOUT SICKLE CELL DISEASE
Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder involving the chemical known as hemoglobin contained in red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen to all parts of the body. When sickle hemoglobin loses its oxygen, it forms long rods inside the red blood cells. This causes the red blood cell to lose its round, donut shape and form a hard, sickle, crescent shape. This "sickling" causes the red blood cell to break apart in 15 to 20 days instead of the normal 120 days. The quick turn over in red blood cells in sickle cell patients then causes anemia or a low red blood cell count. Sickled red blood cells can also block the blood vessels preventing the normal flow of oxygen and blood through the body. This blockage causes extreme pain and organ damage.
The sickling of red blood cells is aggravated by infections, extreme hot or cold temperatures, poor oxygen intake, not drinking enough fluids, and stress. Sickle cell disease primarily affects individuals of African descent, but can affect people from Italy, Greece, Israel, India, Pakistan, Spain, Central America, the Caribbean and many other ethnic groups.
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