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Sidney Garrett working in CHKD's NICU.

A Sickle Cell Warrior’s Journey: Patient to Nurse

Sidney Garrett first came to CHKD when she was 3 years old, on a journey that would last a couple of decades.

Sidney Garrett as a baby.Sidney’s family moved from Indiana to Newport News in 1999, and her parents quickly identified CHKD as the place for Sidney to be treated for sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder she was diagnosed with at birth.

The red blood cells of people with sickle cell are shaped like crescent moons instead of being round and smooth. They can become stiff and sticky, causing them to block blood flow and break down inside the blood vessels. As a result, people with the disease often experience fatigue and pain, and their organs and tissues don’t always get enough oxygen.

Sidney, now a 25-year-old Virginia Beach woman, tells her story for National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, a time to learn more about the disease that affects about 100,000 people in the United States, mostly African Americans, but also people of Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean descent.

Sometimes Sidney didn’t like coming to CHKD, as she knew it would likely involve needles and blood draws, but she also knew a visit could help her feel better if she were in pain.

The Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at CHKD cares for about 500 children with sickle cell disease with a multidisciplinary team of pediatric hematology physicians, nurse practitioners, nurse coordinators, social workers, an education specialist, child life specialists, and a nutritionist.

In her younger years, Sidney needed to be hospitalized several times a year because of pain episodes. So she came to know everyone on the hematology and oncology team, starting with Dr. William Owen, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist who directs the sickle cell program at CHKD.

She remembers having to spend birthdays and a Christmas Eve at CHKD, and having the child life specialists bring her cake, balloons, and presents and decorate her door.

“Honestly, as I got older, CHKD became like a second home to me,” Sidney said. “Everyone on the hematology/oncology team was like a family who watched me grow up.”

She, in turn, saw nurse care partners become nurses and nurses become nurse practitioners.

At one point, she began receiving a medicine called hydroxyurea, which decreased her need to be in the hospital.

The care she received at CHKD over the years led two people in her family to become nurses.

First, her mother. Keeley Garrett didn’t have any medical background, but she became so good at caring and advocating for Sidney, and watching CHKD healthcare providers care for their patients, that she decided she wanted to become a nurse.

“I definitely think I can take credit for that,” Sidney says with a laugh.

Keeley went to nursing school and became a licensed practical nurse, then a registered nurse. She worked as a post-operative nurse and later a school nurse.

By this time, Sidney, too, knew she wanted to be in the medical field. In fact, she began telling friends when she was in elementary school that she wanted to be a neonatal nurse practitioner.

“I wanted to be on the other side of the hospital bed,” she said. “And I wanted to be what my mom was to me for my patients.

Sidney Garrett after graduating from JMU.She went to James Madison University and became a licensed registered nurse in January of 2019.

It was about this time that Sidney needed to make the transition from CHKD to a hematologist who treats adults. She would miss her hematology/oncology family and being treated at CHKD.

Thankfully, her journey at CHKD was not over.

In February of 2019, just a month after becoming a registered nurse, she began working in CHKD’s neonatal intensive care unit.

“It was the only place I applied to, and the only place I wanted to work,” says Sidney, who still drops by the hematology/oncology unit to visit her second family. “I didn’t have a backup plan. CHKD is an amazing place. I know that from being a patient here, and now from being part of the team taking care of the little ones here.”

When she was younger, she wasn’t too enthused about getting involved in sickle cell disease support groups. She didn’t really want to think any more about the disease. But now she realizes how much she learned from others with sickle cell, so she’s happy to help recognize National Sickle Cell Awareness Month.

“I want people to understand that things can change in a matter of seconds in terms of how we are feeling,” says Sidney. “Whether you’re in school, or in a career, or with friends and family, sometimes things will be going great and then take a turn for the worse. That can also scare whomever we’re with. We know ourselves best. We have to understand our limits.”

She encourages others with sickle cell to follow their dreams and aspirations and to also listen to their own bodies and know when to slow down and take care of themselves.

About CHKD

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