You think you’re by yourself, but the support is out there. All the staff was great—and I was happy to see them everyday.
A Match Made in Heaven
Safurat Balogun was only four months old when she was diagnosed with sickle cell disease, an inherited red blood cell disorder that can damage the kidneys. She began visiting Dr. Leonard Stern, a nephrologist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in late 2011, after her previous physician had recommended dialysis for her advanced kidney disease, a choice Safurat was not comfortable with. Dr. Stern determined that a kidney transplant was her best option. “He suggested trying to find someone in the family who would be a match,” Safurat recalls, “because my chronic disease meant I was in kidney failure and needed a transplant…like, yesterday.”
Ganiat Balogun, one of Safurat’s three sisters, who is almost 10 years younger than she and carries neither the genetic trait nor the disease of sickle cell, was tested first. She was a match. “And she wasn’t afraid,” Safurat says. “She told me that if she was a match, she would donate a kidney to me.”
After the successful kidney transplant in March 2012, Dr. Stern then recommended a bone marrow transplant because her sickle cell disease had persisted. Dr. Waichi Wong, a nephrologist in NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia’s Renal and Pancreatic Transplant Program, was brought in for consultation. “I was told that without a bone marrow transplant I would probably have more sickle cell crises, which manifest as an internal pain that is really very difficult to describe,” says Safurat. “While the bone marrow transplant was to alleviate the pain crises associated with sickle cell disease, it also cured my sickle cell disease.”
Ganiat once again offered her healthy bone marrow tissue. This time the bone marrow transplant required an extended stay in the hospital, attended by Safurat’s team, including Dr. Markus Y. Mapara, Director of the Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant Program, transplant nephrologist Dr. David Cohen, Medical Director of the Renal and Pancreatic Transplant Program, and her surgeon, Dr. Anthony Watkins. “And the nurses were as great as the doctors,” Safurat recalls. “I was so happy to see the chef, the cleaning staff, and the nurses every day, because everybody is here to support you. You think you are by yourself, but the support is there.”
Safurat continues to be followed by Dr. Mapara on a monthly basis and also returns to talk with prospective patients about what happens in the transplant process, which, she admits, can be a long road. However, she is now pain free, has high energy, and is cured of her sickle cell – all thanks to her sister’s match and generosity of spirit. “Right now, 99 percent of my sister’s transplanted cells are working,” says Safurat. “I owe her for the rest of my life.”