Part II: The Cure

(Photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz)(This image was manipulated by adding text to the top of the image.)

(Photo illustration by Tech. Sgt. Javier Cruz)(This image was manipulated by adding text to the top of the image.)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Editor's note: This is two of a three-part series about the obstacles U.S. Air Force Maj. Lukiah Mulumba and her family have faced with sickle-cell disease and how the Air Force helped her persevere.

With her resolve fortified, Lukiah chose to see the pregnancy through, despite the threat of having another child with sickle-cell disease.

In 2007, Abdullah Mark Mulumba was born. Unknown to Lukiah at the time, within Mark lied the secret to saving Carol.

In the United States, standardized screening is performed in at least 44 states according, to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2014 report. Of the 44 states that provided statistics, approximately 55,000 infants were identified with sickle-cell disease in 2010.

“When the state results came back, Mark did not have sickle-cell or the sickle-cell gene,” Lukiah said. “The baby I was supposed to abort would one day save Carol’s life.”

After Mark was born, an Air Force recruiter met Lukiah in the hospital. The recruiter and Lukiah discussed the needs of the Air Force and how it could help the Mulumba family. Lukiah commissioned in the Air Force and moved with her family to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

“I didn’t know the extent of how much the Air Force would help me,” Lukiah said.

Shortly after joining the Air Force, Carol’s medical condition deteriorated. Carol was admitted to the hospital where Lukiah worked, and both Lukiah and her daughter received counseling through the behavioral health team there. Carol could talk about the pain with a therapist. Lukiah sought counseling to help with the stress, depression and anger.

Lukiah’s commander and staff routinely checked on the pair and made personal visits to Carol’s bedside, but soon, Carol’s condition became life threatening.

“Carol was dying,” Lukiah said. “She was having more seizures. A neurologist performed a test, and the results told us the next seizure would take her life or she will be in a wheelchair. I knew death was next, so I said we either do it or we lose her.”

Mark was the key to Carol’s survival, but it was a difficult and risky procedure. The cord blood and bone marrow transfer could save Carol’s life, but if the transplant failed, Carol could die.

Doctors used bone marrow and saved umbilical cord blood from Mark containing stem cells to regenerate healthy blood and the immune system. The procedure was a huge success.
“I was so happy, but now it was a marathon of round-the-clock care for Carol,” Lukiah said. “I was aggressive and determined, but we started to see an unexpected change in Carol.”

Before the procedure, Carol was mean, because she was in pain all over her body. Any contact with her caused her great pain. After the transplant, she was happy, she was eating, talking and bubbly. Her entire demeanor changed.

The doctors told Lukiah that her entire house needed the carpeting and ventilation removed to aid Carol’s recovery. Once again, her Air Force family stepped in and assisted the Mulumba’s.

“I will never forget, one week before the transplant, seven trucks and the base commander showed up at our house and completed the renovation for us. They gave me six months to take care of Carol after the transplant. I don’t know how much I can thank the Air Force. I even got a call from the Pentagon to see if I needed help caring for Carol.”

While Carol was fighting for her life in intensive care, she was visited by the Make-A-Wish foundation.

“They asked her, ‘If you beat sickle-cell, what is one thing you would ask for?’ She said, ‘I want to meet Senator Obama. I want to tell him that I am better now and that I want him to build a big basket of coins so that the kids (other Sickle-cell children) can get what I get, because they die.’”

The Make-A-Wish foundation followed Carol throughout her recovery and would make her wish a reality with a visit to the White House.

“I never made peace with Sickle-cell, until that visit,” Lukiah said. “I saw the door to the Oval Office opening and it was the president himself. He spent 20 minutes with my family. It was a special gift for us.”