Sydney & Sheridan

Sisters Sydney and Sheridan are shining stars. Older sister, Sydney, age 13, fills her free time with cheerleading, and 9-year-old Sheridan with dancing and singing. Looking at them, you’d never know they both struggle with sickle cell anemia. For them, life means daily medications, periodic surgeries and frequent medical visits at UNC, yet the sisters live each day to its fullest potential. This is Sydney and Sheridan’s story.

Shining Stars

Sydney was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia via newborn screening within days of being born. Both she and younger sister, Sheridan, have been lifelong patients at UNC.The Taylor sisters of Durham, N.C., are about as different as can be. The eldest, 13-year-old Sydney, is friendly, though a bit reserved, and takes a little while to warm up to new situations and people. If there’s a “serious” sister, conscientious and studious Sydney is it. In her spare time, when she's not at cheerleading practice or cheering at the big game, you’re likely to find her curled up quietly in the corner with a book.

Younger sister, Sheridan, age 9, on the other hand, is effervescent to the extreme. Always smiling and quick with a joke, she overflows with energy and smiles as she dances and sings, entertaining all around her. She is a people magnet and has never met a stranger.

While they’re opposites in many ways, Sydney and Sheridan share one very important trait in common besides their parents, Helena and Chris—both sisters have sickle cell anemia. The genetic disease affects about 1 in 5,000 Americans, nearly all of them of African descent, causing the red blood cells to form a crescent-like shape rather than a normal disc shape and affecting their ability to carry adequate oxygen throughout the body.

“The hallmark of this disease is anemia, which can cause fatigue but also pain,” explains the sisters’ hematologist, Dr. Rupa Redding-Lallinger. “The reason for the pain is the abnormal red blood cells in this disease, which pass poorly through the blood vessels and therefore sometimes cause obstruction and blockage in the blood vessels.”

The blockage and subsequent pain caused by the disease, when severe, is called a sickle cell crisis or pain crisis. The pain can last from hours to day and cause cell damage throughout the body, including the vital organs, and make a person more susceptible to infections.

As mom, Helena, explains it, the condition affects each of her daughters differently. Sydney has had more frequent pain crises, whereas Sheridan has endured more fevers and emergency room visits. Treatment, most of it managed from home with regular visits to the pediatric hematology-oncology clinic at UNC, is aimed at relieving the symptoms and managing the complications when they occur.

Despite the challenges, Sydney and Sheridan take on life on their own terms, never letting their disease define them—quite the opposite, in fact, as you will see in this intimate video portrayal of the girls’ everyday lives.
 

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