E. Leila Jerome Clay, M.D., is the director of the Sickle Cell Program at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, and a tireless champion of children and young adults who are contending with rare blood disorders. Read about how she embraces work, family and fun – often with just the right Caribbean music playing in the background.
What drew you to working with children with rare blood disorders?
When I was growing up, two of my best friends had sickle cell disease. Later, I watched my sister-in-law go through it. Then when I was in medical school, I remember an inspiring hematology lecture by one of my professors, Dr. Beatrice Gee. I have never looked back. Hematology is quite fascinating — especially as it relates to the genetics involved.
Over time, I noticed the discrepancy in the care patients with blood disorders received. I quickly realized that there was a need for a physician who could provide excellent and optimal care for all of those affected by blood disorders. And my passion grew.
Describe a typical day for you.
On an optimal day, I wake up, go for a quick run and head to work. Sometimes I’ll have a meeting before walking over to the clinic to see my first patient. My day is never complete without a cup of green tea to help me get started.
Working with residents is the “the icing on the cake,” as it allows us the chance to offer them a great education that will ensure that, as future pediatricians, they have the knowledge to make good decisions for their patients.
The hematology clinic gets busy pretty quickly. I may also spend time reviewing new referrals and helping to ensure they get the appropriate care and can be seen as soon as possible.
Clinic usually lasts until around 4:30 p.m., but if a patient is getting a treatment in the infusion center, I could be there until after 6 p.m. Then I drive home, catch up with my hubby or friends, or maybe pick the kids up from an activity. I enjoy making dinner and discussing the day as a family. I’m usually the last one to go to sleep, as I often get back on the computer to complete notes, respond to emails or work on projects.
Beyond excellent medical care, what do children who have these blood disorders need more than anything?
More than anything, children who have these blood disorders need to have a strong network of support from family and friends. A village is needed to help sustain and encourage these “warriors,” especially during the time of hardship or illnesses.
What would surprise people to know about you?
Most people don’t know that I am very athletic. I played multiple sports growing up, including basketball in high school, and I ran track in college. I enjoy watching the Olympics. And I love a good game of chess. I’m a team player, and I’m extremely competitive.
Favorite “go to” or unusual comfort foods?
Thai food and a nice Lychee martini.
Do you have any pets, or did you have any growing up?
My first “son” is my dog, Leonardo — “Leo” Clay, almost 14 years old now. Growing up in my home country of Haiti, I had a dog named Bobby.
What are your fondest memories growing up in Haiti?
I was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, until the age of 14. My fondest memories were of spending time with my maternal grandparents and my paternal grandmother in the summers, and time with my cousins. I mostly loved going to my grandfather's land on Saturdays and gathering fresh fruits and vegetables for the house. My grandparents were instrumental in the person that I am today.
The people of Haiti are proud, hard-working, courageous and some of the most intelligent people you will ever meet. We are the products of ancestors who saw fit to revolutionize against slavery and became the world's first black-led republic and the first independent Caribbean state.
What is your favorite genre of music or favorite artist?
Being Caribbean, I can enjoy all music. When relaxing, I love R&B and Soul — but traditional Haitian music, Compas, Reggae or Afrobeats music will always get me up and out of my chair.
If you could pick up a new skill in an instant, what would it be?
Who do you admire the most?
I am often moved by the courage of my patients living with sickle cell disease, especially when they face medical adversity. I admire them for being the warriors that they are. Above all, I admire my parents, Eric and Ginette, for all they have done in life.