Seven-year-old Latricia Fontaine and mother Christina Henderson have their routine down pat. Once a month, the pair travel from their home in Gadsden to Children’s of Alabama, where Latricia receives a blood transfusion to treat her sickle cell disease.
Latricia was terrified of the needles and tubes at first, but now she doesn’t even flinch. In fact, she has become her nurses’ trusted assistant.
“She says she wants to work at Children’s when she grows up. She wants to be a nurse,” Christina said. “She’s at the top of her class going into second grade. She doesn’t like summertime; she’d rather be in school.”
Christina won’t soon forget the day in January 2010 when doctors informed her of Latricia’s diagnosis shortly after her birth. The exact number of people in the U.S. living with sickle cell disease is unknown, but it’s estimated that 70,000 to 100,000 Americans live with the genetic blood disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s also estimated sickle cell disease occurs among one of every 365 black births and one of every 16,300 Hispanic births.
Latricia made her first-ever visit to Children’s at just two weeks old. At age 18 months, Latricia suffered a stroke and was in and out of the hospital for the next year and a half. Doctors keep close watch of Latricia’s kidneys, as sickle cell disease causes kidney complications. But through it all, Latricia maintains a sweet, strong spirit that often leaves Christina and Latricia’s three older siblings in awe.
“She’s a strong little girl,” Christina said. “And though she’s the baby, she’s the boss of her brother and sisters!”
Christina said she and Latricia’s love and appreciation for hometown pediatrician Ben Hester, M.D., Children’s pediatric hematologist-oncologist Jeffrey Lebensburger, D.O., and the hematology-oncology clinic staff at Children’s know no bounds. Several Children’s staffers have known Latricia since she was an infant, and Latricia has grown up having many familiar faces in her corner.
“I love them to death; we love them to death,” Christina said. “They make things better.”