Black History Month Profile: Jennifer Oderinde
Sickle cell disease is the most common inherited blood disorder in the U.S., affecting about 100,000 Americans (according to the CDC), but many are still unaware of the disease and its impact on those affected.
The disease is what inspired Jennifer Oderinde, P2, to start her pharmacy education. “My inspiration for pursuing a pharmacy career ties into my interest in sickle cell disease because I have sickle cell myself,” she explains. The CDC describes sickle cell disease as “A group of inherited red blood cell disorders where red blood cells become hard and look like a ‘sickle.’ The sickle cells die early, causing a shortage of red blood cells. When they travel through small blood vessels, they get stuck and clog the blood flow.”
The disease occurs within 1 out of every 365 African American births and 1 in 13 African American babies are born with sickle cell trait.
“I felt like my disease was a lot worse as a child. Back then, I would get sick way more often and I was constantly missing school,” Jennifer recounts. Most symptoms of sickle cell disease start in early childhood, as was the case with Jennifer. These symptoms include anemia, repeated infections, and periodic pain episodes.
Due to insurance issues, Jennifer and her family were forced to find a new hospital and care team to treat her disease.
“Finding a new care team was definitely a turning point, and my new medications made a difference for me. I actually got better and I wasn’t sick and missing school all the time. This really sparked my interest in pharmacy. How is it that all I had to do was start taking new drugs and it made a world of difference? It’s incredible.”
Once she realized that she wanted to pursue pharmacy, Jennifer selected the UIC College of Pharmacy because “things just aligned.” She attended UIC for undergrad, majoring in Biology, and had a positive experience at the University. During her sophomore year of college, she participated in the Summer Research Opportunities Program here at UIC. The program invites underrepresented minority students to conduct research with faculty mentors within their desired area of interest. During her first year in the program, she worked with Dr. Jin Han, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice here at the college.
Jennifer is currently assisting Dr. Jewel Younge, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice, with a project examining the prior authorization process for sickle cell medication and how certain inefficiencies in the process may hinder patient access to medications. Looking ahead, Jennifer is interested in specializing in hematology-oncology after graduating with her PharmD.
Despite her earlier hardships with sickle cell disease, Jennifer is well and serves as an inspiration for others who are impacted by the disease. “People are now living long lives with sickle cell disease and there is a cure out there now, thanks to UI Health.” In 2012, physicians at UI Health successfully cured sickle cell disease in a patient via a stem cell transplant.
“Today,” Jennifer concludes, “people can live a healthy life with sickle cell.”