Stem cell transplant cures first adult sickle-cell patient in Canada

Edmonton’s Revée Agyepong, 26, underwent the treatment at Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre, and blood tests confirm she no longer has the debilitating disease. “I feel free,” said Agyepong. “It’s something I’ve dreamt about, prayed about and have been thinking about my entire life.”
Agyepong was born with sickle-cell anemia, a hereditary disease in which blood cells change into a sickle shape and block blood vessels, causing severe pain and a risk of stroke and organ damage.
She even made a bucket list at a very young age after initially reading that her life expectancy was 16 years.
“I need to go to Disney. I was so serious,” she said.
Agyepong had visited the emergency room five times in the seven months leading up to the stem cell transplant and has experienced chronic pain and a heart murmur. She has had her gall bladder removed and her spleen no longer functions.
Previously, Agyepong had to undergo a red blood cell exchange every eight weeks to manage her condition, a process that took over three hours in which two litres of her blood was exchanged with that of a donor.
Stephanie Amoah, Agyepong’s sister, started looking at stem cell research studies being conducted in Maryland, concerned about giving her sister a better quality of life.
“It was a no-brainer,” she said. “I knew if I was a match, I’d just do it no matter what.”
Amoah had a 25 per cent chance of being a match for her sister.
According to Dr. Andrew Daly, leader of Alberta’s bone marrow transplant program, it’s always better to have a donor from a matched sibling, otherwise there is a risk of serious complications.
Stem cell transplants have been performed successfully in children to treat sickle cell anemia since 2009, as children are far more resilient. Studies on its success in adult patients only began in 2015.
“Before this, there was no real way of curing people,” said Daly.
He said there’s still a lot to do: “We have a lot more patients with sickle cell anemia than we do donors.”
Due to Agyepong and her sister’s commitment to the treatment, doctors decided she was a good candidate for the transplant.
“Sometimes you have to advocate for yourself,” said Agyepong.
“As (the donated bone marrow) started going into my vein, I just started crying, because I was just so excited. I couldn’t believe it was happening.”
“The fact that she (Amoah) gave me this incredible gift is mind-blowing.
“We’re the same person,” Agyepong said of her sister. “Now I’m going to be even more like her.”