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Spotlight: Melissa Claar, leader in pediatric sickle cell disease treatment program

Nurse Practitioner Melissa Claar, MA, RN, CPNP, helps lead the pediatric sickle cell disease treatment program at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital. Claar believes empowerment and education are crucial components of patient care.
Under Nurse Practitioner Melissa Claar's guidance, our pediatric sickle cell disease treatment program at University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital has grown in the last three years. The keys to helpful patient care, Claar said, are empowerment, education and encouragement.

Empowerment and education are crucial components of patient care, according to Pediatric Nurse Practitioner Melissa Claar, MA, RN, CPNP.

Claar, a care provider serving the pediatric sickle cell disease program at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital not only guides families through the difficult time, but engages them and encourages them to dive deep into education on sickle cell disease, so they can become partners in the care.

This approach—and Claar’s willingness to be a tremendous resource for families—has helped our sickle cell disease program expand. We spoke with Claar to talk about her eight-year career as a nurse practitioner, sickle cell disease-related disorders and the treatment program’s recent growth.

What are sickle cell disease-related disorders?

Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder that affects red blood cells, which are the cells responsible for delivering oxygen throughout the body. Specifically, the disease affects hemoglobin, the component inside the cells that carries oxygen. Sickle cell disease causes a person to have abnormal hemoglobin, which in turn causes red blood cells to take on an unusual “sickle” shape. This makes blood flow through the blood vessels difficult, and often causes blockages in the blood vessels. Patients with sickle cell disease are at a high risk for serious infections because the spleen—which filters your blood and removes old red blood cells—does not function properly. Sickle-shaped red blood cells are fragile and break more readily, which results in anemia. Unfortunately, this disease can affect every organ in the body and has the potential to cause many medical problems, some of which can be life threatening.

Learn more about our sickle cell disease treatment and services.

How did you become interested in the medical field?    

My desire to make a difference was the driving force for my interest in healthcare, and it was my role as a hospital volunteer during my pre-teen years that first sparked my passion for the medical field. When I was young, I also loved babysitting and caring for children, which led me to pediatric work. I saw working in a children’s hospital as a way to unite my two interests. Pediatric hematology/oncology is a medical specialty that is particularly near and dear to my heart. My passion has always been in helping others. Providing excellent comprehensive and compassionate care allows me to make something that is exceptionally difficult for patients and families a little easier.

You’ve been praised for your work as a resource for families. Why is this part of the process important to you?

Education cultivates empowerment and I feel that our patients and families deserve nothing less. By emphasizing this, we encourage our patients and their families to be active proponents in their care. Providing them with resources and knowledge builds a strong partnership.

Learn more about our blood disorder treatment services at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

What sets apart the University of Minnesota Masonic Children's Hospital program apart from others?

First, our commitment to research makes us stand out. This is especially important to me because, through research, we hope to achieve better patient outcomes. Another unique feature of our sickle cell program is that there is an element of intimacy given that we are relatively small. We know our patients and families well, which is meaningful to them. 

Can you tell us how the program has grown?

We’ve grown as a program by seeking out professional educational opportunities about sickle cell disease so as to make us better care providers. An important piece of this is becoming participants in research and understanding how research is evolving. We’ve also seen growth in our pediatric sickle cell disease patient volumes, nearly doubling the number of patients we see over the past three years. I believe this is because we are collaborating with primary care providers in the community and with other important sub-specialists within University of Minnesota Health to provide comprehensive care.