According to the National Institute of Health, a Mobile man is the first in the state to be sickle cell free through a clinical trial where he underwent gene therapy.

29-year-old Lynndrick Holmes had suffered with the disease all his life before his medical breakthrough in December 2018.

According to Dr. Felicia Wilson, a Pediatric Hematologist Oncologist with University Hospital, sickle cell is a genetic blood disorder where the cells in the blood stream that carry oxygen which are normally round and flexible are shaped like a farm tube called a sickle.

Wilson said sickle cell's most common complication is pain, which Holmes knows a lot about.

"Hell...absolute utter hell. I don't know how else to describe it," he said.

Lynndrick Holmes having a sickle cell crisis as a child

Holmes vividly remembers one picture from his childhood while at an amusement park. He said he was having a "sickle cell crisis."

"We went to Busch Gardens and I was in a sickle cell crisis and I didn't want to ruin the fun for my little sister so I kinda just like took the pain," Holmes explained.

Holmes has been married to his wife Dominique for four years. They said it hasn't been the easiest trying to manage their lives and their three daughters around the disease.

"It was very difficult for us as a family. There were a lot of plans that had to get shortened or plans that we couldn't make. We couldn't plan too far in advance because we never know what was going to happen. Now it's like we have a new lease on life," Dominique Holmes said.

That pain is something Dr. Wilson said a lot of people simply don't understand. She explained how it feels for those who suffer from it.

"If you can imagine when they put that tourniquet on or that cuff on to measure your blood what they do is collapse the blood vessels," she said. "Imagine if that stayed on and you couldn't get it off, how painful that could become."

After a Google search and a few phone calls, Holmes took part in a clinical trial with NIH where he underwent gene therapy. NIH said Holmes "came to Bethesda in March 2016 for his first treatment and has been going back regularly for follow-ups and monitoring."

NIH released the following statement: 

"The experimental treatment involves removing stem cells from the patients’ bone marrow and adding a correct copy of the beta globin gene, which is defective in people with sickle cell disease. The stem cells are then returned to the patients by IV infusion, leading to the production of normal hemoglobin."

The re-infusion of Holmes' cells happened on December 11, 2018. A day, he said changed his life forever.

"December 11, 2018...that was the day that I was reborn. They give me the new cells. So I'm like cellularly nine months old," he said.

So now there's somewhat of a renaissance in the Holmes household. Life as they knew it is over.

"Most of my life all I knew was how to live under the radar and now I'm figuring out what my wing span is," Holmes explained.

Holmes had suffered with the disease for 28 years of his life. Now he said he's reclaiming his time.

"I'm trying to take back everything that was taken," Holmes said. "I wanna be able to run a mile. I wanna be able to travel. I wanna be able to go and just live. Make mistakes, trial and error."

He wants his story to be a testament to others suffering with the disease.

"This is bigger than me. And that's really what it comes down. The more people know about it, that's an opportunity for other people to be like me 'sickle cell free'," he added.

It can take several years to be considered "cured" of a disease, but no doubt this is exciting news for people who suffer from sickle cell.

To learn more about sickle cell disease or the gene therapy clinical trial, click here.

All content © 2019, WALA; Mobile, AL. (A Meredith Corporation Station). All Rights Reserved.


Toi Thornton is a Reporter. His Bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism comes from Dillard University in 2014 and his Master's degree in New Media Journalism from Full Sail University in 2016. He previously worked as the Fox anchor in Lafayette, LA.

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