Fighting Sickle Cell Disease: Honoring Dr. Wally Smith

Sep 5, 2018 | News and Events

“Nobody wanted these patients in 1984 in Memphis.” – Dr. Wally Smith

In 1984, when Dr. Wally Smith began working with patients with Sickle Cell Disease, nobody wanted them. Often times, it was a matter of getting these patients off the roles as quickly as possible with nothing more than basic prescriptions and maybe a visit to the hospital to see them.

But, for Dr. Smith, a recent recipient of Patient Services Incorporated Leadership Award, this was just the beginning. Now nearly 35 years later, Dr. Wally Smith is widely known as an expert on Sickle Cell Disease as well as for his endless dedication in helping to improve the lives of the approximately 100,000 people in the United States who have Sickle Cell Disease. This disease, as Dr. Smith describes it, has historically been under-researched, underfunded, and undertreated.

What Is Sickle Cell Disease?

In our recent article entitled, “Could There Be Hope On The Horizon For Sickle Cell Patients?” we defined Sickle Cell Disease as a genetic blood disorder, meaning it is passed down from parents to child. The name sickle cell is derived from the very characteristic of the disease being sickle-shaped red blood cells. Taking on this unique shape, these sickle red blood cells have a challenging time navigating through blood vessels. These sickle cell blood cells are further characterized by being hard, sticky, and stiff in contrast to normal red blood cells which are round, soft, and flexible allowing for more of an easier time maneuvering through blood vessels.

What Are the Symptoms of Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle Cell Disease is present at birth, but for most infants, there are often no problems from the disease until they reach 5 or 6 months of age. It is a requirement in all states, District of Columbia and U.S. territories that all newborn babies receive screening for sickle cell disease.

Early symptoms for some children with sickle cell may include jaundiced skin or in the whites of eyes due to a large number of red cells undergoing what is called hemolysis. Other symptoms can be fatigue, which could stem from fussiness from the anemia as well as dactylitis, or painful swelling in the hands and feet.

For many, a life with sickle cell disease is a life of navigation through a constant threat of sickle cell crisis. To see a list of other possible symptoms for sickle cell disease, click here.

Who Is Dr. Wally Smith?

Wally R. Smith, MD, Florence Neal Cooper Smith Professor of Sickle Cell Disease at Virginia Commonwealth University, is a general internist, health services researcher, and a national authority on health disparities, quality improvement, and sickle cell disease.  He is past Scientific Director of the VCU Center on Health Disparities.  He is past Secretary of the Society of General Internal Medicine.  He was the first African-American Robert Wood Johnson Generalist Physician Faculty Scholar. He was a member of the Institute of Medicine Committee on Standards for Developing Trustworthy Clinical Practice Guidelines.

He is a member of the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee. He has published over 100 manuscripts, obtained over 50 externally funded grants, been a division chief, directed a HRSA-funded general internal medicine fellowship, and mentored many minority researchers to independent funding.

He cares for over 400 adult patients with sickle cell disease.  He was the Principal Investigator (PI) of the Pain in Sickle Cell Epidemiology Study (PiSCES), the largest and most detailed adult cohort study of sickle cell pain.  He was Virginia PI of the Sickle Cell Disease Clinical Research Network. He is now the PI of the Start Healing in Patients with Hydroxyurea (SHiP HU) Study.

PSI Honors Dr. Wally Smith With Leadership Award

In 2017, PSI honored Dr. Wally Smith with the PSI Leadership Award at their annual Evening of Hope. The PSI Leadership Award is presented to a person that has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and compassion to listen to the needs of others.  This person does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.

A Hero To Many

Since those early days in 1984, Dr. Wally Smith has been tireless in his pursuit. With inheriting patient after patient with sickle cell disease, as you can see, Dr. Smith has met the challenge head on and is a hero to many who long felt forgotten and left alone. To us here at PSI, he is a hero, too. Because of Dr. Wally Smith, no longer can we say, “nobody wanted these patients.” Instead, from here on out, no one gets left behind.

What Is The Evening Of Hope?

The Evening of Hope acknowledges, celebrates and honors patient champions in the chronically-ill community. Guests who attend can expect an extraordinary night with delicious food that reflects the fall season, cocktail hour, an exemplary company, education, and entertainment.

Highlights of the evening usually include a seated dinner, an awards ceremony, respected guest speakers, recognition of event sponsors, educational updates provided by the PSI Leadership and Government Relations teams, and live patient testimonies.

Honoring Previous Evening Of Hope Award Recipients

Every week leading up to the 2018 Evening of Hope, PSI is looking back at previous award recipients. You can read our previous post here.

Read more PSI News

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