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Jalen's Story

Jun 6, 2019

Relief from Pain Brings New Hope for Teen with Sickle Cell Anemia

jalen hill in cap and gownWith three kids and a very busy life, Shirley Henderson of Detroit was hoping for what any parent hopes for when she found out she was pregnant with her third child, a healthy baby boy. After receiving genetic testing, the news was not good. Shirley was informed that her son Jalen Hill would be born with sickle cell anemia. The disease is caused by abnormal red blood cells shaped like a crescent or sickle. They don't last as long as normal, round red blood cells, which leads to anemia. The sickle cells gets stuck in blood vessels, blocking blood flow which can cause chronic severe pain and organ damage.

“Jalen started getting sick at seven months and the pain he has endured throughout his life with this horrible disease is something I would not wish upon anyone,” says Shirley. Jalen has been in and out of the hospital for most of his life due to complications from the disease and also suffered numerous conditions including kidney problems and a life-threatening brain hemorrhage when he was a young teen. “While my son was fighting for his life, I was also diagnosed with breast cancer during this time.”

Not sure how she could cope with everything, she received strength from two sources. “Jalen was my source of strength throughout this time. As sick as I was, I would look at him and see his strength and knew we needed to do whatever it takes to get through this. My other strength was my faith that the Lord would see us through this,” she says.

With a life-time of suffering through severe chronic-pain, a ray of hope came through from specialists at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Pediatric Pain Management Clinic located on the campus of the Detroit Medical Center (DMC). Jalen was able to see specialists at the Pain Management Clinic, which is the only program of its kind in the state exclusively dedicated to helping bring relief to children and adolescents suffering with chronic pain.

The multidisciplinary team at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Pediatric Pain Management Clinic consists of medical experts that are board certified in both pediatric pain management and anesthesiology, and includes pediatric specialists in pain psychology and pharmacy along with physician assistants and nurses. The clinic also has access to physical therapists and complimentary and alternative medicine specialists who are available as needed.

Suresh Thomas, MD, director of Pain Medicine at DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan says pain is a problem that affects both the physical and emotional well being of children. If it is poorly controlled it can also have undesirable effects on a child’s physiological, metabolic and emotional status.

Jalen’s pain was severe and traditional medications used to ease pain were not working well. “In Jalen’s case, we used a multidisciplinary approach that combines the knowledge and expertise of our pain specialists, psychologists, clinical pharmacologist and physical therapists. The medication management and support along with empowering Jalen to be in control of his disease with education and adopting lifestyle modifications has been successful,” says Dr. Thomas. “I am so happy that Jalen has been able to benefit from the services we provide and we will strive to be there for him whenever he needs us,” he adds.

“My prayers were answered with Dr. Thomas and the Pain Management Clinic, who after all these years were able to control my son’s excruciating pain with this disease,” says Shirley. She feels it is a miracle that Jalen has been out of the hospital for 17 months and can now focus on doing what so many other kids take for granted, attending his senior prom and graduating from high school.

“He hopes to be a chef or video game developer. I’m very hopeful he will now have his chance to fulfill his wish free of pain and full of smiles,” says Shirley.