Inspired Since Childhood, UAPB Graduate Hopes to One Day Treat Sickle Cell Patients

By Katrina Dupins

Now the 22-year-old is looking to the future and the possibility of becoming a doctor to care for patients like himself.

Diagnosed at birth, doctors say Hymes has always been proactive in taking care of himself which helped prevent disease complications. He meticulously drinks plenty of water and eats healthy food.

“I can’t take all the credit,” Hymes said. “I’ve had great doctors from the beginning. My mom and grandparents play a big role in making sure I stay healthy.”

Hymes recently graduated from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff with a degree in biology.

Sickle Cell Disease, a hereditary blood disorder, effects about 100,000 Americans. In patients with sickle cell, some red blood cells become stiff and c-shaped like a sickle instead of round. That makes it difficult for the cells to pass through tiny blood vessels that carry oxygen throughout the body, causing many complications including painful flare-ups that require hospitalization.

Hymes recently moved from the pediatric sickle cell clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital to the Adult Sickle Cell Clinic at UAMS. Since it opened in 2014, the adult clinic has been an invaluable resource for hundreds of patients living with the disease in Arkansas. Leigh Ann Wilson, a licensed certified social worker, is an integral part of transitioning patients from pediatric to adult care. She works on both sides and remains a constant for patients once they become adults.

Megan Davis, M.D., is a palliative care physician who treats patients with sickle cell disease. She says the lifespan for patients with sickle cell has doubled since the 1970s thanks to a greater understanding of the disease and advancements in treatment.

Megan Davis, M.D., talks to her patient Xavius Hymes about managing sickle cell disease.

“The discovery that hydroxyurea can treat sickle cell is one those advancements,” Davis said.  “Hydroxyurea is a medication that helps the patient produce more red blood cells that don’t sickle, which will reduce the frequency of painful episodes.”

This year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the amino acid, L-glutamine, as a treatment for sickle cell patients. L-glutamine is a powder, given orally, to reduce sickle cell crises. During clinical trials, patients taking the L-glutamine had fewer sickle cell crises compared to those taking the placebo.

Another treatment choice is stem cell transplant. The transplant replaces the patient’s bone marrow, which prevents the body from producing abnormal blood cells. While considered a cure for the disease, transplants require a matched donor and sometimes have severe side effects.

“The advice I give to all my patients is that it’s important to take an active role in your care. Partner with your physician and be an active member of your health care team,” Davis said. “That’s when patients have the best outcomes.”

Hymes recently graduated from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff with a degree in biology. He’s taken the Medical College Admission Test with hopes of one day becoming a hematologist.

“I was in and out of the hospital as a child. Doctors and other health care professionals have had a big impact on my life. I would love to make that same impact in the lives of others.”