Wednesday, September 24, 2014
As a professional athlete with sickle cell trait, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Geno Atkins understands firsthand the urgent importance of knowing you have it and following common-sense precautions that let carriers lead a normal, active life.
This is why Atkins is joining Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in spreading awareness about sickle cell trait and sickle cell disease in September, which is Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Atkins found out he has sickle cell trait as a freshman playing football at the University of Georgia. His father, former NFL player Gene Atkins, was also found to have the trait.
An estimated 3 million people in the United States have sickle trait. Atkins’ message them: don’t let it stop you from doing what you want to do.
“The doctor said it isn’t going to prevent you from doing anything football wise, but there are some things you really need to focus on,” says Atkins, during a recent visit Cincinnati Children’s to meet with patients and medical staff. “Hydrating, drinking plenty of water or Gatorade, eating proper – so you have to change your diet a little bit – and it’s important to get plenty of rest.”
Sickle cell trait is related to sickle cell disease, but having trait is not the same as having the disease. In sickle cell disease, red blood cells lose their normal shape. They take on a C-shape and become hard and sticky. These cells die early and cause a constant shortage of red blood cells. The misshaped blood cells can get stuck in vessel and clog blood flow, causing severe pain, organ damage and infections.
People with sickle cell trait carry the sickle cell gene, but they do not have the disease. Normally those with trait do not have serious health problems. But during extreme physical exertion and at high altitudes, they can become prone to dehydration or have trouble breathing. This is one reason the NCAA now requires that all college athletes be tested for sickle cell trait.
For those with sickle trait who want to pursue active lifestyles or athletics, Geno Atkins is an excellent role model, according to Russell E. Ware, MD, PhD, director of the Division of Hematology at Cincinnati Children’s and co-executive director of the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute.
Ware said awareness about sickle cell trait has increased among coaches, trainers and athletes – leading to an emphasis on common-sense approaches to physical activity that apply to all athletes, not just those with sickle cell trait.
“In the past there have bene times where coaches were told to be tough with their players and make them go extra distances, work out in the sun and not get water, but those days are long passed,” Ware said. “Now we understand the importance of proper preparation with hydration, rest and cooling off for all athletes – especially those with sickle cell trait.”
Ware said it is important for all trainers and coaches to protect athletes by following these common sense approaches to practice and training, and for those with sickle cell trait who exercise on their own to do the same.
Read more about Geno Atkins’ story and the truth about sickle cell trait: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/stories/geno-atkins.html
Atkins talks about his sickle cell trait: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cMjBS7f13Os&feature=youtu.be
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center ranks third in the nation among all Honor Roll hospitals in U.S.News & World Report’s 2014 Best Children’s Hospitals. It is also ranked in the top 10 for all 10 pediatric specialties. Cincinnati Children’s, a non-profit organization, is one of the top three recipients of pediatric research grants from the National Institutes of Health, and a research and teaching affiliate of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. The medical center is internationally recognized for improving child health and transforming delivery of care through fully integrated, globally recognized research, education and innovation. Additional information can be found at www.cincinnatichildrens.org. Connect on the Cincinnati Children’s blog, via Facebook and on Twitter.