My Son Needed a Blood Transfusion, but a Miracle Happened
Columnist Somi Igbene's son made a surprising recovery after his hemoglobin levels dropped
While my son, who has sickle cell disease, has been mostly well, he’s had to go to the emergency room twice since being born. The first was when he was 9 months old, and the second was in March, just before his second birthday.
The first incident was insignificant. He had a mild temperature, and being new to sickle cell, I panicked and wanted him checked out immediately. They sent us home with paracetamol, and his temperature was back to normal the next day. However, the incident in March was not so straightforward.
My son woke up his usual bubbly self on a sunny Tuesday morning. He ate breakfast, played with his toys, and watched his favorite TV shows. By midday, I noticed he had become quiet and very clingy, but I brushed it off as him being tired and needing an early nap.
He fell asleep, but three hours later, he was still sleeping, which was unusual for him. I touched his forehead and sighed — he was very hot. I checked his temperature — it was 37.8 C (100 F). He certainly had a fever. My gut instinct was correct after all: Something wasn’t quite right.
I waited for him to wake up and then offered him food. He refused most of it but drank a lot of water and nursed. I gave him some paracetamol, and he fell asleep again. His fever broke shortly after, but when he woke up, he seemed weak and wasn’t interested in playing.
He had some more water, ate a few bites of his dinner, and nursed again. I noticed that his temperature was rising again and considered taking him to the hospital that evening, but he wasn’t showing any signs of an infection, such as a runny nose. I palpitated his side to check for an enlarged spleen and didn’t feel anything, and he wasn’t in pain.
I gave him another dose of paracetamol, and his temperature dropped again, but by morning it was back up again. I decided to take him to the hospital just to be safe, and he was seen a few hours later.
The nurses and doctors on call checked his nose, eyes, and throat and confirmed that he didn’t have any signs of infection. His oxygen saturation — how much oxygen the hemoglobin in the blood carries — was also normal. They concluded it was probably nothing to worry about and sent us home with yet more paracetamol, instructing me to return if his temperature rose again.
We returned home, and the same cycle repeated itself overnight. However, unlike Tuesday, when his temperature was around 37.8 C, this time it had increased to about 39.3 C (102.7 F) without paracetamol. I panicked and went straight back to the ER.
It took only about 30 minutes to be seen because the duty nurse could see from the records that we had been there the previous night. They checked his temperature, which was 40 C (104 F). They immediately gave him paracetamol and directed us to the doctor on call.
This doctor had worked with children with sickle cell disease before and demanded that a blood test, blood culture (to check for infections), and chest X-ray be done immediately. My son’s blood test showed his hemoglobin levels had fallen to 4 g/dL, when the normal range is 12-18 g/dL for a person without sickle cell and 6-11 g/dL for a person with sickle cell.
The blood culture was clear — there was no infection — but the chest X-ray suggested he may have had one. Because his hemoglobin levels were so low, the doctor instructed the nurses to put a cannula (a thin tube inserted into a vein) in his foot to prepare him for a blood transfusion. I was told he would be admitted and we should get ready for transferal to the pediatric ward.
We were still waiting for a bed two hours later when the doctor asked for another blood test before transferring us to the ward. A nurse came and drew my son’s blood, and we continued to wait. An hour later, his blood test showed that his hemoglobin levels had risen to 6 g/dL.
I should mention that during our hospital stay, he was constantly drinking and nursing but still refused food. His oxygen saturation levels remained above 95%, and his temperature had fallen and remained at normal levels. After deliberating with her colleagues, the doctor prescribed antibiotics and decided we could go home, at about 11 p.m., and come back the following afternoon.
When we got home that night, my son’s appetite had returned. He had a big dinner and fell asleep shortly after. His temperature didn’t rise during the night and remained stable after that.
When we got to the hospital the following afternoon, the doctor on call did another blood test. Miraculously, my son’s hemoglobin levels had risen again to 7 g/dL. The doctor was convinced he was on the mend and decided he didn’t need the transfusion after all, so they removed the cannula. We were sent home and instructed to finish the course of antibiotics.
He had another blood test two weeks later, and his hemoglobin had risen to normal levels for him.
The experience was frightening, but it was nothing short of a miracle for his hemoglobin levels to fall so low and then rise without much intervention.
Note: Sickle Cell Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Sickle Cell Disease News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to sickle cell disease.