Deidra Flowers-Williams ended up in Building 10 of the National Institutes for Health in 2015 because she was out of options.
Flowers-Williams had sickle cell anemia and the toll it had taken on her body over the years had left her in constant pain and too weak to walk from her bed to the bathroom.
After a stem cell transplant at the NIH hospital on Nov. 19, 2015, Flowers is free of the disease and has not had a sickle cell crisis since the procedure.
Her story, along with three other NIH patients, is the subject of the three-part documentary, First in Human, airing tonight on the Discovery Channel. Flowers-Williams story will be featured in the third segment on Aug. 24.
Narrated by Jim Parsons of the Big Bang Theory, the series follows the diverse patients as they participate in a First in Human trial the initial time when a new therapy is tested in humans.
Deciding to pursue a spot in a medical trial can be daunting. There are lots of hoops to jump through to get accepted and there is always the chance that nothing will change or it might kill you, Flowers-Williams said.
She was willing to take the risk.
Tanisha Flowers, her sister, provided the stem cells. The sisters were a 100 percent match.
Sickle cell anemia is a disease in which the body produces abnormally shaped red blood cells. The cells are shaped like a crescent or sickle. They don't last as long as normal, round red blood cells. This leads to anemia. The sickle cells also get stuck in blood vessels, blocking blood flow. This can cause pain and organ damage.
Flowers-Williams was No. 43 in the NIH clinical trial on using stem cells to cure sickle cell in adults. The first transplant took place about 13 years ago and that patient is alive and free of sickle cells.
Flowers-Williams returns to the NIH every six months for a checkup.
On my last visit, everything was good, she said.
Shes had to get all-new immunizations since her slate was swept clean when her sisters stem cells took over.
The therapy couldnt fix what was damaged before the stem cell transplant.
You know I lived with sickle for 39 to 40 years and Im so grateful to be here today, Flowers-Williams said.
She said her success is hope for individuals with sickle cell anemia.
There is medical work being done that can ease our suffering, she said.
Flowers-Williams said she was excited about the series because it highlights the NIH and its work.
Those scientists and researchers are working every day to cure diseases and sickle cell is only one of many, she said. I believe the stories of the four patients will touch people and bring focus to the institution.
The research center has already come up with another treatment for sickle cell patients who dont have a stem cell match, Flowers-Williams said.
Prior to my treatments I had no prior knowledge of what they did, Flowers-Williams said. This has opened up a whole new world for me. Im so happy the National Institutes of Health is getting this exposure.
Flowers-Williams has a job, an impossibility for years. Her teenage children have a new mother.
They have only known me as being sick, she said. Were making new memories.
Ethel Flowers, a nursing instructor at Temple College, her daughter and family were in Los Angeles recently to promote First in Human.
Dee Dee was on a panel with the other patients discussing their experiences, Flowers said. They asked everybody on the panel questions, but I only focused on her.
Flowers said the family has viewed bits and pieces of the series, but havent seen it in its entirety.
The producers were supposed to send me the program on a DVD, because I told them I was old school, Flowers said. As of Wednesday the DVD hadnt arrived.
Her daughter is doing great, according to Flowers.
She has normal people problems now, like arthritis, she said.
Over a period of a year, film crews from the Discovery Channel were embedded within the hospital and followed four patients who volunteered to participate in experimental treatments in the hopes they will help them, or others in the future. The series also follows the doctors and nurses who carry out the research while caring for the patients.
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Temple native's sickle cell case to be featured on Discovery program - Temple Daily Telegram
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