For people living with sickle cell disease, chronic pain becomes an all too familiar part of everyday life. The UT Physicians Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center is working to help change that.

UT Physicians, the medical practice of McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), has expanded the Sickle Cell Center to accommodate a growing number of patients. Subspecialists, social services, and behavioral health services have all been added to the center for a holistic approach to patient care.

The unique facility, located at 1200 Binz St., Suite 850, is the only comprehensive sickle cell center in Houston.

Sickle cell disease is an inherited group of blood disorders that causes red blood cells to become misshapen, or sickle-shaped.  A red blood cell’s normal shape makes it flexible, allowing it to easily move through blood vessels to deliver oxygen. When cells are sickle-shaped, they stick to vessel walls, preventing blood and oxygen flow, which ultimately causes severe pain. These episodes of pain, known as “pain crises” can last a week.

“If you sat on your leg for several hours, and it began to hurt, that pain is what sickle cell patients experience as a common occurrence,” said Sarah Abke, senior practice manager for the center.

Sickle cell disease affects approximately 100,000 people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Sickle cell disease affects about 1 out of every 365 African American newborns and about 1 out of every 16,300 Hispanic-American newborns. Additionally, about 1 in 13 African American infants are born with the sickle cell trait.

What makes the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center unique is that it specifically treats sickle cell patients from birth to death. The center focuses on providing a wide range of care and resources for its patients.

Harinder S. Juneja, M.D., professor and division director of hematology at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, serves as the lead project physician at the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center. Modupe Idowu, M.D., assistant professor of hematology at McGovern Medical School, is the clinic’s medical director.

“Having the facility and care available at one place is key,” Juneja said. “Sickle cell patients need a multidisciplinary team that can care for their unique needs and prevent visits to the emergency room.”

Thanks to the medical professionals at the center, not only do patients have access to quality care, but there are also resources available to assist them in managing the pain. Infusion rooms are designed to help keep patients comfortable and relaxed. The rooms come equipped with televisions, treatment recliners, privacy curtains, pillows, heated blankets, and IV therapy used to keep patients hydrated while doctors monitor their pain.

“It is quiet and they get the attention they need there,” Juneja said. “We can’t take your pain away, but we can help get it to a controlled state.”

UT Physicians, one of Houston’s largest physician practices, offers multidisciplinary medical care at its flagship location in the Texas Medical Center, as well as at community based health centers throughout the greater Houston area. The team of internationally recognized medical experts includes more than 1,000 doctors certified in 80 medical specialties and subspecialties.