Bainbridge girl cured of sickle cell anemia with help from family

Published 7:29 pm Friday, April 7, 2017

Monday will be Summer Jinks’ first day back at school in almost a year.

While the other first graders at Jones-Wheat Elementary were learning in classrooms, playing at recess and eating in the lunchroom together, Jinks was fighting a battle.

Diagnosed at birth with sickle cell anemia, Jinks was cured in July 2016 thanks to a bone marrow transplant from her older sister, Tatyanna.

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Sickle cell anemia is a disease where the body produces abnormally shaped red blood cells. Normal cells are shaped like a disk, but under sickle cell anemia, the cells take a crescent, or “sickle”, shape. The sickle cells don’t survive as long as healthy red blood cells, and also can get stuck in blood vessels, blocking blood flow. The clogs can cause intense pain and even organ damaged.

Jinks’ other sister, Laodicea, 18, also suffers from sickle cell anemia. Unlike Jinks, she hasn’t had an episode since suffering a stroke when she was 6. For the last 12 years, however, she has had to travel to Atlanta for a blood transfusion every four to six weeks.

Jinks began traveling to get treatment when she was 6 months old. For years, driving to Atlanta once a month for treatments was just part of life for her and her family.

In October 2015, doctors proposed an idea to cure Laodicea. It would take a bone marrow transplant, and it needed to come from a sibling to have a better chance of curing her. Tattyanna was tested, but unfortunately wasn’t the right match.
Jamie and Telly, the three sisters’ parents, proposed another idea. What about Jinks?

“(The nurse) came back with a big smile on her face, almost in tears,” Telly said. “She said they were a perfect match.”

While the transplant process was short, the treatment before and after to rid Jinks of the disease was more than any 6-year-old should have to go through.

Countless doctor appointments. More trips back and forth from Bainbridge to Atlanta. After the transplant was done, Jinks had to stay in Atlanta for almost five months. Chemotherapy caused her hair to fall out. Other side effects, like a pericardial effusion that filled the area around her heart with fluid, reared their ugly heads.

But Jinks was stronger.

Every child at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is required to attempt 10 laps around the nursery station every day. With a heart full of fluid or an oxygen tank by her side, exhausted from chemo, Jinks walked every step.

“Even the doctors and nurses were amazed,” Jamie said, smiling.

Folks back home cheered for her. Dr. Larry Clark, principal of Jones-Wheat Elementary School, visited Jinks at the hospital and made sure the teachers schooling her in Atlanta were on top of what was being taught at Jones-Wheat.

“We are really excited about her coming back Monday,” Clark said. “That’s something we have all been looking forward to.”

What kept Jinks going was talking to her sisters. She would wait for Laodicea and Tatyanna to get out of school, then facetime them immediately. Doctors and nurses learned quickly that her laughter echoing through the hospital usually meant she was talking them.

Jinks returned to Bainbridge in November, and has been homeschooled since. Now, a couple days away from returning to the classroom, she is looking forward to one thing above all.

“Lunch,” she said.

Laodicea is a senior at Bainbridge High School. She hopes to enroll at Georgia State this fall, close to the hospital she has visited so often, and become a nurse to help others with sickle cell anemia.