Two of three children have the disease
By Kyle LoJacono
LAND O’ LAKES — The Cartwrights thought they had all the information needed to prevent the spread of sickle cell anemia. Still, two of their children were born with the disease.
“I was shocked, very upset and in disbelief,” said Danica Cartwright. “I was very confused because we thought we knew everything we needed to know and that our kids would be ok.”
Two of Cartwright’s children, 9-year-old Dayzha and 4-year-old Dondray, have sickle cell anemia, a condition that causes someone’s red blood cells to be sickle-shaped.
Cartwright and her husband, Daziano, do not suffer from the disease. Cartwright however, like most of those in her immediate family, has the sickle cell trait, which means her children can inherit the disease even though she has no symptoms.
“Unlike a lot of genetic disorders, sickle cell anemia can be passed from parent to child even if only one parent is a carrier,” said Dr. Tung Wynn, pediatric hematologist at Healthpoint Medical Group Children’s Orthopedics of Tampa Bay. “Some doesn’t have sickle cell anemia unless they have the symptoms.”
Wynn treats the Cartwright children Dayzha and Dondray. The two require his care because the sickle-shaped blood carries oxygen poorly; causing cells to die too quickly.
“Normal blood cells live about 120 days and sickle cell blood will only live 20 to 30,” Wynn said. “They also don’t make as much blood.”
While the disease is serious, it has not prevented Dayzha from physical activity, which helps her get through the most difficult times.
“I used to play softball and now I dance,” Dayzha said. “I do jazz dance and acrobatic dance. I like doing both of them and I want to be a dancer when I grow up. Whenever I have a bad day I dance and I feel better.”
Wynn said sickle cell is more prevalent in certain ethnic groups. About one in 20 African Americans have it.
“The result of having sickle-shaped blood is chronic anemia that leads to many different crises,” Wynn said. “The most common crisis is the crisis of pain caused when the shape of their blood blocks blood flow to the smallest blood vessels, which causes acute pain in the muscles. Other crises are when a lot of the (blood) cells burst causing infection and another that traps blood in the spleen which causes it to swell and even burst.”
While all the crises are dangerous, the most debilitating for Dayzha is the most common.
“The problem is we didn’t know how to manage the disease when Dayzha was born, so she suffered from the pain crisis a lot,” Cartwright said. “It can get really bad in her arms, legs and sometimes stomach. It can get so bad in her legs that she can’t walk.”
The pain can last so long, it sometimes seems like forever to the young girl.
“It’s the worst in my legs and I feel a lot of pressure there sometimes,” Dayzha said. “It can last two or sometimes three days when it’s really bad.”
The Cartwrights have learned how best to manage the disease. One of the most important steps is to keep the two kids hydrated.
“Drinking lots of fluids helps keep the blood from causing the pain in her arms and legs,” Cartwright said. “We also have to make sure she doesn’t stay out in the hot sun too long because she can get dehydrated…The cold can bring on the pain so we make sure she has a sweater too.”
Getting enough sleep and eating a good diet with lots of vegetables is also helpful in decreasing the number of crises.
“Now we know what to do and Dondray hasn’t had as many problems as Dayzha did.” Cartwright said. “They both have to take one milligram of folic acid each day because people with it, their bodies don’t recycle folic acid very well. People with it also have to take penicillin until they’re 5 because they can get infections really easily.”
Both Dayzha and Dondray were diagnosed with the disease soon after birth because they were at a higher risk of contracting it.
Cartwright’s children had a 25 percent chance of inheriting the anemia, a 25 percent chance of having the trait and a 50 percent chance of having no trace of the disease. She said they decided to have more children because they wanted to have more than one child.
The couple’s youngest child, Daylen, is less than 1-year-old and does not have sickle cell anemia.
The Cartwrights take Dayzha and Dondray to get their blood checked every six months. They also get hearing, vision and heart screenings regularly.
“In the past people with sickle cell anemia lived until about 32-years-old, but today’s technology has increased the lifespan to 50 or 60,” Wynn said. “I’d say the Cartwright children have a great chance of living full and healthy lives.”