Salisbury man makes miraculous recovery after Sickle Cell Disease transplant trial
SALISBURY, Md. – September marks Sickle Cell Disease Awareness Month. Marckeys Moore of Salisbury, Md. battled the disease his whole life. But now, he has made a miraculous recovery after receiving a life-changing transplant.
“The experience was very humbling and eye opening. It’s also scary, to say the least,” said Moore. “After being cured, my life has completely changed.”
What is Sickle Cell Disease?
Sickle Cell Disease is a genetic blood disorder that causes red blood cells to take on a sickle, or “c”, shape. Normal red blood cells are usually shaped like a flat disc, or a donut. The shape of the sickle cells causes them to clot easier, leading to health complications, says Dr. Nisarg Desai, an oncology specialist with Beebe Healthcare.
“Those red cells die early, and because they die early, that causes complications because of low oxygen status, or anemia,” said Dr. Desai. “To have Sickle Cell Disease, one gene comes from the father and one gene comes from the mother. If one parent is affected, then the child will be just a carrier. That’s called Sickle Cell Trait.”
“Living in a shadow”
Those living with Sickle Cell Disease face an increased risk of blood clots, stroke, kidney disease, and early death. The average life expectancy for a man living with Sickle Cell Disease is 42 years old. Moore says that risk became even more pressing after he and his wife welcomed their son into the world.
“When you have Sickle Cell, you’re kind of living in a shadow,” he said. “You’re constantly worried about a blot clot, or having a stroke. That could happen at any time, while you’re also trying to live a normal life.”
On top of those serious health complications, Moore also faced pain crises; intense, and often debilitating, bouts of pain that comes with the disease. “A pain crisis is an intense stabbing pain. It can be located anywhere on your body, and it can last anywhere from 15 minutes to a week. The pain has been compared to child labor,” he said.
Because of the pain, getting through everyday routines, like attending school, working, and even just eating was a battle all throughout Moore’s life.
“A Sickle Cell patient has triggers that will cause a pain crisis, such as walking into a cold building or a hot summer day – the extremes in temperatures,” he said. “Just every aspect of my life has been affected by Sickle Cell in some way. The foods that I eat, they would affect whether I had a crisis or not.”
And while living with Sickle Cell Disease dictated almost every moment of Moore’s life, those unfamiliar with his condition often did not know the difficulty he was struggling with. “People can’t actually see my disease, so they assume I’m healthy,” he said.
Dr. Desai says while medication and pain management are available to Sickle Cell Disease patients, more advanced treatment options like bone marrow transplants are not as easy to come by.
“In the bone marrow transplant, you take a normal stem cell, usually from a matched donor with a similar gene profile to the patient,” said Dr. Desai. “It is not very readily accessible. Finding the donor, as well as post bone marrow transplant care is also hard.”
In 2020, Moore enrolled in a clinical trial at the National Institutes of Health. Unfortunately, the trial was discontinued. However, Moore was able to find another trial being conducted at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Md.
Moore says while he was grateful to be selected for the trial, the process was grueling. He underwent chemotherapy and full-body radiation to eradicate his own bone marrow. Normally, donors would have to be a full match to recipients. But, Moore’s cousin, who is a half match, was allowed to donate his bone marrow in the study.
Sharing His Story
After the transplant, Moore spent several weeks in the hospital recovering. He says not being able to spend that time with his budding family was hard. But, realizing that he needed to share his story, was an easy choice. Moore is now planning on hosting a symposium at his alma mater Wor-Wic Community College to spread awareness about Sickle Cell Disease. He will be joined by Dr. Robert Brodsky, who pioneered the transplant procedure, and treated Moore.
“Going through a transplant and the treatment will open your eyes to the point that helping others is more important than yourself,” said Moore. “I hope people who come here will have a better understanding of Sickle Cell, and can just be aware that this disease exists. When they come across someone with Sickle Cell, maybe they’ll have a bit more compassion.”
And while Moore is looking forward to the symposium, he says he’s even more thrilled to be one of the first few dozen people in the world considered cured of Sickle Cell Disease. But, Moore says the best part of his new reality is being able to watch his son grow up. Luckily, Moore’s wife is not a carrier of the gene, and the baby is healthy.
“It feels amazing, being a dad. Just being able to spend time with my son, doing things like going out to the pool and golf cart rides. I did fear for a long time that I wouldn’t be able to see his first birthday because my health was declining so rapidly,” said Moore. “It’s just a blessing every day.”
The symposium will be held on three dates: September 15th, 22nd, and 29th at 5 p.m. The event is free and open to all. To register, click here.