An archive of press releases from SCDAA-MI



Effort aims to assist medical community in proper treatment of long-misunderstood disease

February 26, 2020                                                                                                                    


Today, the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America - Michigan Chapter launched a new initiative designed to help advance the care and well-being of individuals living with sickle cell disease. The initiative, known as SAFE(R), provides medical professionals with quick access to an online portal at that provides clinical practice guidelines for sickle cell established by the National Institutes of Health, sickle cell-specific opioid guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, as well as best practices and recommendations from the American Society of Hematology and other leading experts in sickle cell treatment.


Though medically recognized more than 100 years ago, it was only the introduction of prophylactic penicillin in the 80s and subsequent comprehensive pediatric efforts that now allow most individuals with sickle cell to live far beyond childhood, although their lifespan still falls short of the national average by about 30 years. Yet, while research and treatments for the disease are now gaining more attention, individual’s lives are at stake daily due to a lack of adult medical providers trained in sickle cell’s complexities. In fact, there is a peak in mortality at the time of transition from pediatric to adult care.


“For more than 30 years, I’ve had the privilege of serving as pediatrician to Michigan children with sickle cell disease – caring for them and their families, and advocating for their needs. Along with my colleagues across the country, we’ve achieved levels of success in their healthcare that my father only dreamed of when he started SCDAA-MI 49 years ago,” says Dr. Wanda Whitten-Shurney, CEO and Medical Director. “Now we’ve reached this pivotal point in sickle cell history where research and treatment possibilities are at an all-time high, yet, we are losing far too many patients we’ve brought all this way for the past four decades to a medical system unprepared to receive them.”


The emergency room – a frequent stop for our patients – is an extremely perilous place for adults. Individuals out-of-state have often reached out to their former pediatricians at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan Sickle Cell Clinic asking them to coach a doctor in charge of their care unfamiliar with the disease. The situation has produced a skepticism among patients that they’ll be adequately cared for, sometimes causing them to take their chances and not go to the ED at all.


Central, then, to the SAFE(R) Initiative is the wallet-sized Sickle Cell 911 (SCD911) card, which directs providers to the SAFE(R) site at In addition to guidelines, recommendations and best practices, the medical professional-focused pages also provide educational resources about the disease and its potential complications.


Sickle cell patients are advised to carry the SCD911 card with them and present it when they need emergency care – whether at home or away. Patients and caregivers have shared stories about ED providers resorting to the internet or medical journals to find information about treating the disease. The SAFE(R) initiative puts that information at providers’ fingertips in an easily accessible and usable format, hopefully saving crucial acute care time that in turn leads to saving lives.


“I’m appealing – no, challenging – my counterparts in adult primary, specialty, and emergency medicine to partner with us in changing this narrative by committing to SAFE(R) treatment. It’s time for a plot twist, so to speak, and we invite you to help re-write the future chapters of the sickle cell story. Patients throughout Michigan are looking for SAFE(R) spaces for care every day. Let us know we can confidently refer them to you and your health systems for this compassionate, equitable, and guideline-based treatment. History will thank you and so will we.” 

CONTACT: Stefanie Worth                                                       

Dr. Wanda Shurney Responds to FDA's Approval of Adakveo

First targeted treatment sparks excitement and hope among doctors and those living with the debilitating condition

November 20, 2019



Friday, the FDA gave its approval for Adakveo (crizanlizumab-tmca), the first targeted therapy to treat pain in patients with sickle cell disease (SCD). “This medication is a potential game changer in the quest for better treatment for patients with sickle cell disease (SCD),” said Wanda Whitten-Shurney, M.D., CEO and Medical Director of the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America - Michigan Chapter (SCDAAMI). “We are excited that after 109 years, individuals with SCD can finally say there is a medication developed specifically for them. For 20 years our patients had only one disease modifying medication, hydroxyurea.

“Unfortunately, because it is a drug used to treat cancer, many physicians are hesitant to prescribe it and many patients are afraid to take it – leaving supportive care such as blood transfusions, antibiotics for infections, and potent narcotics for essential pain relief as their only options,” said Dr. Shurney.

First recognized by the medical community in the United States in 1910, SCD is a genetic condition inherited from two parents who carry the gene for sickle cell trait. The hallmark of the disease is episodes of unpredictable and often excruciating pain due to crescent- (sickle) shaped red blood cells that block the flow of blood, and therefore the delivery of oxygen, to vital organs. These red blood cells are also fragile and break down early causing anemia and fatigue. The newly-approved Adakveo targets the episodes of pain frequently referred to as a pain crisis.

“We hear story after story from patients in genuine need of significant pain treatment being denied the compassionate and competent care they desperately need and deserve because many in the medical community are unsure, uncomfortable, or unaware of how to best treat sickle cell patients,” said Dr. Shurney. “Patients in crisis are often questioned about the validity of their symptoms and assumed to be ‘drug seeking’.” This problem is exacerbated by the current opioid crisis.

In addition to her role at the SCDAAMI – fondly known as the Sickle Cell Center throughout the community – Dr. Shurney has been a familiar face to many families whose children have been patients at the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Clinic at Children’s Hospital of Michigan during her 30-year career providing out-patient care with an emphasis on education and coping strategies. She has worked relentlessly to help kids and their families manage the chronic ailment while enjoying healthier, more active lives. Many of her patients are now adults – something unheard of 30 or 40 years ago.

“Thanks to advances like the administration of penicillin to give children with SCD a fighting chance against infection, we’re now seeing many patients living a closer to normal lifespan, but they are still faced with significant challenges,” said Dr. Shurney. “This illness can disrupt every aspect of the family’s life. Children miss school, parents and adults miss work which can result in termination of employment and the resultant financial strain on the family.  Frequent trips to the doctor and repeated hospitalization are an additional burden.  Many individuals have some level of pain every single day. After 109 years, it is past time to improve life and offer hope to this patient population.”

Though numbers are thought to be higher, an estimated 100,000 individuals in the U.S. currently live with some form of the debilitating and life-threatening disease. Comparatively, there are about 30,000 people with cystic fibrosis and 20,000 people (predominantly men) with hemophilia.1 Yet, despite three to five times as many people living with SCD, the disease remains widely unknown, misunderstood, and poorly resourced. 

“This in the face of the fact that SCD primarily affects people of color - mostly African Americans and Latinos, but also East Indians, Greeks, Italians, individuals from the Middle East, and other people from malaria-afflicted parts of the world,” said Dr. Shurney. The disease is an evolutionary response to malaria: Those with sickle cell trait are less likely to get malaria. But nature’s protective mechanism brought about its own unbearable consequences.

“Thanks to the Orphan Drug Act, there are numerous promising clinical trials underway.  We are also encouraged by the National Institutes of Health’s Cure Sickle Cell Initiative striving for a genetic cure in the next five to 10 years,” said Dr. Shurney. “The FDA’s approval of Adakveo is a big step in the right direction.  Our next challenge is to make sure the medication is accessible to the patients who so desperately need it.  Individuals with sickle cell disease are living longer, but we are also focused on improving their quality of life.”


1 Cystic fibrosis and hemophilia statistics courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control at

CONTACT: Stefanie Worth                                                       


Sickle Cell Disease Association of America - Michigan Chapter
18516 James Couzens Fwy, Detroit, MI 48235

(313) 864-4406 OR (800) 842-0973

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