Against All Odds
Against All Odds: Sickle Cell Patient Survives Through Life-Saving Measures. Charon Simmons is an extraordinary young man who has beaten the odds---not once, but all his life. No battle was more important, however, than the life-threatening shut-down his body endured last September---and his subsequent dramatic recovery.
Twenty-three year-old Charon was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia when he was five years old by doctors at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital (FVRH). His mother, Star, had taken young Charon to other doctors near her home in Mission Viejo, but they repeatedly misdiagnosed him. Sickle cell anemia is a relatively rare blood disorder that affects primarily African Americans. South Orange County is a predominately Caucasian community, so doctors there had little experience with it.
“When Charon was diagnosed, I felt the need to find a way to educate people about this disease,” Star says. Charon’s younger sister is also afflicted with sickle cell anemia. Star and her husband Elliott established the Sickle Cell Foundation of Orange County in 2006 to provide education among those who are dealing with the physical, mental, emotional and psychological complications of Sickle Cell Disease.
It was in finding a correct diagnosis over a decade ago that Star also found the team who saved Charon’s life last September. That was when, after suffering through years of pain management necessitated by his disease and managed by doctors at FVRH, Charon’s body began to shut down. Charon had been admitted to the hospital for pain management the day before he took a turn for the worse. “During a sickle cell crisis, the red blood cells burst,” explains Dr. Moises Carpio, Medical Director of the Intensive Care Unit. That set off a cycle of dangerous bodily responses in Charon. In his case, 95 percent of his red blood cells burst, leading to acute kidney failure and a potassium imbalance. The result was cardiac arrest.
During the first Code Blue, Charon’s heart stopped for over three minutes. He was revived only to suffer another code that lasted 13 minutes. His doctors again resuscitated him but feared brain damage from the lengthy stoppage of his heart. They immediately ordered a treatment that could save Charon’s brain—and his future.
Through a new treatment called hypothermia, doctors slowed the progression of any damage that may otherwise have impaired the recovery of Charon’s brain function. Hypothermia involves cooling a comatose patient’s blood using a catheter that circulates a loop of cold saline solution, effectively reducing the body’s temperature to 91 degrees. Patients are sedated for the 24 hours