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Sickle cell disease stigmatized

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It appears that a “little understood” disease that affects a disproportionate number of African-Americans in South Carolina will get a lot more attention locally.

Sickle cell anemia, which affects up to 100,000 people win the United States and is prevalent locally, has another champion in Dr. Julie Kanter-Washko.

She is the newly hired director of sickle cell disease research at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Kanter-Washko wants to make MUSC a leader in treating the lifelong disease. And her passion is evident, judging from a Page 1A Q&A today by Lauren Sausser.

Two years ago, I wrote about Dr. Sherron M. Jackson and the 500-patient clinic she runs at MUSC for children with sickle cell. She talked about her patients as if they were her own children.

I came away impressed with her knowledge of the inherited blood disease that also affects Hispanics and other minorities.

But what also came through was her passion for helping young people successfully battle their illnesses. She was an advocate for them.

Kanter-Washko seems to bring that same dedication to her work here.

She is a trained pediatric hematologist-oncologist and the former director of the Sickle Cell Center of Southern Louisiana at Tulane University.

“I am very passionate about a disease that is poorly understood and stigmatized. (However) We can make a difference,” she said.

Kanter-Washko said she especially became interested in sickle cell disease during her studies in 2009. She noticed the disparity in research, medicine and finances when it came to the disease. “It’s appalling.”

She said the disease affects a population that does not get the attention it should. These patients needed a voice.

With these two doctors and others partnering in the fight against this dreaded disease, children and adults alike should greatly benefit.

Jackson is happy to have Kanter-Washko on board.

She brings a wealth of experience with sickle cell patients, Jackson said. “She has only been here a few weeks, and we already see the benefits of her interest and enthusiasm.”

In her new position, Kanter-Washko wants to give the disease a higher profile and build a national registry.

The disease of the red blood cells can cause few symptoms or a lifetime of pain, strokes, hospitalization, even death.

She also wants to increase funding for the disease. “Sickle cell disease, it’s really incredibly underfunded. It’s sad and pathetic, actually, how underfunded it is,” according to Sausser’s report.

Kanter-Washko plans to “design a bundled care plan … where patients with sickle cell disease are insured throughout their lives.”

Read Lauren Sausser’s A1 report in today’s paper.

MUSC obviously made a good hire.

Reach Assistant Features Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555, or

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