Children’s Hospital New Orleans’ GABS Program
It’s no secret that when it comes to menstrual struggles, blood-related disorders, and women’s pain in general, they are often overlooked, or ailments are explained away. In 2021, Children’s Hospital New Orleans sought to mitigate this issue by bringing their Our Girls and Adolescents with Bleeding and Sickle Cell (GABS) program to life.
Dr. Dana LeBlanc and Dr. Maria Velez, who have been involved with the Foundation for Women and Girls with Blood Disorders (FWGBD) for many years, were integral to the program’s creation. FWGBD is a national organization with the goal of learning more about and supporting the unique healthcare needs of women and girls with blood disorders, and this goal is what inspired the creation of the GABS program, notably the only one of its kind in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast Region.
GABS has a unique focus on providing relief and education opportunities for a variety of blood disorders. Young women who suffer from bleeding disorders, clotting disorders, sickle cell, and other hemoglobinopathies can expect to receive comprehensive care through the program that takes note of both their underlying blood disorder and their reproductive health needs that are likely different from the needs of the general population. To best meet these needs, Hematologists and adolescent medicine physicians within the clinic work together to create tailored healthcare plans to meet the individual sexual and reproductive health needs of their patients.
After a patient receives an initial diagnosis of a blood disorder or related complication, they are referred to the GABS clinic where comprehensive care and treatment begin.
“For example, a young woman with heavy menstrual cycles may develop iron deficiency anemia. Through the GABS clinic, our team can evaluate for an underlying bleeding disorder, correct the iron deficiency anemia through iron supplementation, and discuss options and initiate hormonal therapy to minimize the ongoing menstrual blood loss that is contributing to the anemia,” shares Dr. LeBlanc.
Women with sickle cell disease, where red blood cells have a sickle or crescent shape instead of a round shape, often seek support for pain and other complications that the GABS program is seeking to alleviate. The clinic notes that adolescents often suffer a great amount of sickle cell pain during hormonal changes, and oftentimes these patients are at an increased risk of developing blood clots, which needs to be accounted for (along with how sickle cell disease affects fertility) when choosing contraceptive or hormonal therapy options. Teamwork between the clinic’s team of blood and reproductive experts allows them to put together personalized plans for every patient.
The program takes great strides to keep everyone from the patient to the family informed about next steps and strategies to maintain health and minimize pain through print and electronic material. Assistance from social workers who attend each visit helps break down social and financial barriers, ensuring visitors receive the care they need.
Additionally, the clinic’s hematology nurse navigators are always ready to provide further education and tackle any challenges with medication adherence that may arise. After all, their goal is to “make a potentially stressful situation a little less intimidating by providing comprehensive care, education, and support all in one space, alleviating the need to attend multiple clinic visits at different times and places.”
Through the staff’s dedication to finding solutions and educating those in need, the clinic has become very popular. It is often booked out for several months in advance, further proving just how much a program like this was needed.
“Many young females are not aware of the impact of blood disorders in their reproductive health. Some of them are from remote or underserved areas where access to these services is difficult to find,” attest Dr. LeBlanc and Dr. Velez. “Promoting education and health literacy about the potential impact of their blood disorder using social media and other forms of mass communication facilitates this awareness.”
For those with friends, family members, or themselves who may be interested in being seen in the GABS clinic, the path to relief is a phone call away. Feel free to reach out to the Children’s Hospital Hematology office at (504) 896-9740.