As a young girl, Associate Professor Miriam O. Ezenwa, PhD, MSN, BSN, RN, FAAN, witnessed the effects of a disease that would later become the focus of her research years later, firsthand.
Growing up in Nigeria, Ezenwa found herself face-to-face with the devastating effects of sickle cell disease, a blood disorder that disproportionately impacts specific racial and ethnic groups, such as African Americans.
She still recalls the image of a teen neighbor who succumbed to sickle cell disease when she was a teenager herself. Likeable. Kind. These words describing his personality remain echoes of his memory, which still remains etched in Ezenwa’s mind.
“Sickle cell disease robbed him of the joy of life,” she said. “Whenever I think about him, it stokes my desire to learn more about a disease that currently tortures over five million individuals in my home country, so I can give back through my research findings that can be used by my people.”
After becoming an academic nurse researcher and joining the UF College of Nursing, Ezenwa has pioneered a broad body of sickle cell-related research at the UF College of Nursing. Her current body of work focuses on sickle cell pain management and the use of non-drug therapies, such as guided relaxation, to manage pain.
Most recently, Ezenwa, along with Prairieview Trust – Earl and Margo Powers Endowed Professor Diana J. Wilkie, PhD, RN, FAAN, of the UF College of Nursing Center for Palliative Care Research and Education, received a $6.3 million award from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to investigate if therapies such as acupuncture and guided relaxation could be used to reduce the use of addictive medications when treating chronic pain caused by sickle cell disease.
“There is a place for both drug and non-drug therapies in pain management, and there is also a place for patients to become active partners in their own care,” she said.