Published: May 25, 2021
19-year old Zoe Hall is a CNA (certified nursing assistant). She enjoys caring for patients in a way that she is intimately familiar with- because she can empathize with them.
Zoe has sickle cell disease (SCD)- an inherited red blood cell disorder. In patients with SCD, red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a “sickle”. The sickle cells die early, which causes a constant shortage of red blood cells. Also, when they travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow. This can cause pain and other serious problems such as infection, acute chest syndrome, and stroke.1
When Zoe experienced her first pain crisis at age 14, she spent weeks at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. Over the last five years, she has been back many times. As Zoe grew through her teenage years, she discovered that certain things triggered her pain crises, and she recognized a pattern. When it started to get cold outside, she would have a crisis, end up in the hospital, and miss school.
Zoe’s junior year of high school was particularly tough; she had a full course load of eight classes. Her schoolwork caused a great deal of stress- another known trigger of sickle cell crises. That February, she had a pain crisis and was admitted to the hospital for three weeks. Although she was in pain, Zoe’s sharpest memory of this hospital stay was that she missed spending Valentine’s Day with her friends. “I didn’t have a boyfriend or anything,” she shared “but when you’re in high school- you know- you just want to spend that day having fun with your friends. And I was sad that I spent it in the hospital.”
The Hall family lives in Dover, Delaware, just under an hour from duPont Hospital for Children. Zoe is part of a large, loving family, with seven siblings, a niece, and a nephew. Although Zoe started receiving sickle cell treatment at 14, the Halls are no strangers to duPont Hospital for Children and the Ronald McDonald House of Delaware.
The Hall family’s first stay at the Ronald McDonald House was in 2007 when Zoe’s younger sister Zondra started receiving treatment, also for sickle cell disease, at age four. Zoe remembers staying at the House with her parents and siblings. Her mom April shares “all of the siblings would always be excited to come to the House and play.”
Photos from Zoe’s first stay at RMHDE in 2007
Zoe’s family made every effort to be by her side during her long hospital stays. And driving every day from Dover wasn’t practical- especially for her large family. That’s why they have called the Ronald McDonald House “home-away-from-home” over the years.
“The House has been a blessing to our family,” shares April. “Staying here relieves the tension financially. It also brings the comfort of knowing we don’t have to worry about what to eat. It takes one more thing off the list.” She adds that remaining close to the hospital means a great deal.
Being close to the hospital became even more important in 2020. After many years battling painful recurring sickle cell crises, Zoe began the journey to receiving a bone marrow transplant. The lengthy process, which included a lonely 3-week hospital stay while her family faced several diagnoses of COVID-19, finally led to a successful transplant in October. She felt overjoyed that her older sister was a match and she became her donor.
After her transplant, Zoe and April came to the Ronald McDonald House while Zoe recovered. “The House is giving me a place to stay safe while we wait for my immune system to get stronger,” she shared. Because getting COVID-19 would likely be devastating for Zoe’s weakened immune system post-transplant, she is grateful to find respite in a safe environment.
Because of visitor restrictions at the House, Zoe’s other siblings are not able to stay with them. Zoe and April miss their family dearly but share that they have discovered a new, deep bond as mother and daughter. “It’s provided a unique opportunity,” says Zoe, laughing “I feel kind of like I get her all to myself for once!”
April adds that over the years, the family has also found support through their community. Members of their church have volunteered to cook meals for families in need because as April states, they know that “the organization is just awesome.”
Since her transplant, Zoe has been symptom-free and finds peace knowing they are right across the street from the hospital in case she needs emergency care. She is passionate about educating others about sickle cell disease and hopes to spread awareness about a disease that not many people know much about.
Zoe and April would like to direct anyone interested in learning more about sickle cell disease to the William E. Proudford Sickle Cell Fund. The fund supports treatment and research at hospitals in the Mid-Atlantic, including duPont Hospital for Children. You can learn more at wepsicklecell.org.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. What Is Sickle Cell Disease? | CDC. [online] Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/sicklecell/facts.html> [Accessed 7 January 2021].
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