Ariana's Love of Cooking Is a Happy Distraction From Her Battle With Sickle Cell Disease

For Ariana, life with sickle cell disease has proven to be a challenge, but Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has been there at every turn to help the 15-year-old overcome the side effects and get back to what she loves most.

Pediatric sickle cell teen patient learning to cook

Ariana was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at just a few days old, and her treatment for this chronic inherited condition began almost immediately. Through days, weeks and sometimes months in the hospital, she managed the chronic pain commonly caused by sickle cell disease with the support of the team at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s.

As one of the largest pediatric hematology programs in the country, the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center treats more than 2,000 sickle cell patients each year, offering the latest therapies to not only manage recurring side effects but help kids get back to being kids. Children’s has performed more than 80 of these life-changing blood and marrow transplants (BMTs) to date; Ariana was one of the transplant recipients.

Overcoming a serious setback

Her older sister, Ayunia, was her donor. Unfortunately, not long after the complex BMT procedure, Ariana was diagnosed with graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). This can occur after any transplant procedure; the condition may be mild or severe.

“Her GVHD was just horrible,” Ariana’s mom, Aretha, says. “Ariana’s whole body was covered in what looked like peeling fish scales, and her doctors said it was one of the worst cases they had ever seen. They were worried she wouldn’t live long.”

Ariana was hospitalized for more than six months for GVHD treatment. But today, she is doing well. Despite scarring and hair loss resulting from GVHD, Ariana has found peace and happiness in an unlikely place for a teenager: the kitchen.

A recipe for a healthy, happy recovery

Ariana started cooking while recovering from the BMT at the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House, where she and Aretha would regularly watch cooking shows on TV. She became such a skilled chef that she was invited to California to participate in “MasterChef Junior,” a national cooking show for kids.

“It was such a good experience for her,” Aretha says. “She now wants to go to culinary school after high school.”

Her favorite thing to cook is Chicken Alfredo, in addition to baking cupcakes for patients at Children’s who are staying in the Atlanta Ronald McDonald House.

“We stayed at Children’s so long that I felt like we lived there,” Aretha says. “The people there were just lovely, and I wouldn’t take my daughter anywhere else. They made it feel like home.”

Home to one of the largest pediatric hematology programs in the country

When the side effects of sickle cell disease keep kids from doing the things they love, our team of specialists is there to provide the comprehensive care and advanced therapies they need to get back to the childhoods they deserve.

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