Buckeye Star Raises Sickle Cell Awareness as Ohio State Program Improves Outcomes for Patients

Sickle Cell Disease Program Patient

It’s hard for Santonio Holmes to put into words the impact Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) has had on his life because, “It didn’t happen to me, it happened to my son.”

The former Ohio State and NFL star receiver and Super Bowl MVP has always worried about what his son, Santonio “TJ” Holmes III, was missing out on in life due to his disease. “To see him not be able to be around his friends and participate in sports, it hurt me to see that and to know I gave that to him.”

Holmes spoke about his family’s experience with SCD at the JamesCare for Life event, “Transformation in the Management of Sickle Cell Disease,” led by Payal Desai, MD, the director of the Sickle Cell Program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James).

Approximately 100,000 people in the U.S. — mostly African Americans — have SCD, which can result in varying degrees of pain and organ damage, as well as increased risk of infection. Through recent advances in research and care, however, experts like Desai are improving outcomes for many of those patients.

Read on to learn how Ohio State’s program improves, extends and saves the lives of SCD patients in central Ohio.

Extending Lives


Through 1960, the life expectancy for SCD patients was just 10 years, but that number is climbing due to extensive research, new treatments and earlier interventions.

“The treatment of SCD is transforming,” says Eric Kraut, MD, an SCD specialist at the OSUCCC – James. “We’re seeing patients living to 50 and 60 and several in their 70s.”

The OSUCCC – James is the only U.S. facility appointed as a center of excellence for SCD by the Joint Commission, the nation’s top hospital ranking organization. “This allows us to introduce new treatments more quickly, and to recognize complications in patients earlier so they can be treated,” Kraut says. “This is an exciting time in the treatment of SCD.”

Research Breakthroughs


Among the reasons for the recent successes in treatment are several breakthroughs in SCD research:

L-glutamine: This new drug was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2017 for patients five and older and has been shown to reduce the number and duration of hospital visits for SCD patients. “It’s an amino acid that helps fight the oxidative stress of SCD for patients,” Desai says.

Crizanlizumab: This antibody — currently in consideration for FDA approval — helps reduce P-selectin, which is when the SCD cells stick to the thin membranes inside blood vessels, sometimes resulting in severe pain. “It improves blood flow and has the potential to be a tremendous advance,” Desai says.

Voxelotor: This treatment — which will be studied in a new OSUCCC – James clinical trial — “blocks the sickling of the red blood cells,” Desai says. “It can decrease anemia and impact the long-term course of a patient’s SCD.”

Bone Marrow Transplants: Bone marrow transplants — currently in the clinical trial phase — are potential curative treatment options for SCD patients. “It can be a cure,” Desai says. “I can’t even quantify what it means to wake up in the morning and not have to worry about pain or having a crisis that requires hospitalization.”

Complications of bone marrow transplants can include increased risk for infections, graft versus host disease and the need for chemotherapy. However, they are life-changing option for some SCD patients.

Gene Therapy: In this promising new treatment, patients’ own blood cells are removed, re-engineered in the lab to insert working hemoglobin genes, and then delivered back into the patients’ bloodstreams. “We’re very early in the process, but this is very promising,” Desai says.

III and Long


To help more people benefit from these treatment innovations, Holmes created III and Long, a non-profit that provides financial support and treatment options to patients while raising awareness of SCD. “Not everyone has the ability to fight and provide for their kids (with SCD) and that’s why I’m here,” he says. “We want to make sure everyone has a fair chance and won’t lose their jobs and can provide for their kids. I’ve always been a champion and I will continue to be a champion for sickle cell.”

If you’ve been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, would like a second opinion or would like to speak with a blood disorder specialist, please call The James Line at 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.