Sickle Cell Center, community still mourn Haynes’ passing, yet his legacy provides motivation
“He was an amazing teacher and an even better man. Simply put, Dr. Haynes was and will always be a legend to me.”
By Michelle Ryan
The name Johnson Haynes, Jr., M.D., is so closely linked with sickle cell treatment in Alabama that the University of South Alabama’s Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center fittingly bears his name. But more than that, it’s a reminder to the providers who worked alongside him – and greatly miss him – of the legacy they feel called to live up to.
One year ago, the USA Board of Trustees authorized naming the center in his honor to recognize his devotion to the treatment, research and education of sickle cell disease. A few months later, Haynes died after a brief illness, and the void he left lingers.
“The unexpected and untimely passing of Dr. Johnson Haynes, Jr., has been very hard on the center’s staff and sickle cell community,” said Ardie Pack-Mabien, Ph.D., FNP-BC, interim director of the center. “The sickle cell center staff, sickle cell community and many of our patients are still trying to deal with his loss.”
During September, which is also National Sickle Cell Awareness Month, the loss feels magnified. Haynes largely committed his career to caring for most of the adults with sickle cell disease in the southern half of Alabama from August 2001 to just a few months prior to his passing in December 2022 when he was the center’s director.
Sickle cell disease is a chronic condition that affects more than 5,000 Alabamians, and those with the disease can experience stroke, infections and severe pain, among other complications, as a result.
Earlier this month, Gov. Kay Ivey signed a proclamation recognizing the observance of Sickle Cell Awareness Month in Alabama. Pack-Mabien and Antwan Hogue, M.D., senior hospitalist at USA Health University Hospital and assistant professor of internal medicine at the Frederick P. Whiddon College of Medicine, represented the center at the signing in Montgomery.
“As the collaborating physician for the Johnson Haynes, Jr., M.D. Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center, I understand that I have giant shoes to fill. I was fortunate enough to observe him closely during the year prior to his passing,” Hogue said. “His team respected him, and his patients adored him. I am honored to have worked alongside him and to have witnessed many of the strides that he made throughout his career. He is greatly missed.”
Though the loss is great, the center’s providers say they are left with inspirational examples of how he cared for his patients and advocated on their behalf.
“I knew Dr. Haynes as one of the most caring providers for patients with sickle cell disease. He genuinely wanted to build and run a center of excellence for these patients,” said Hamayun Imran, M.D., MSc., division chief of pediatric hematology and oncology at Children’s & Women’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the Whiddon College of Medicine. “He cared about healthcare disparities and advocated for responsible treatment of opioids for those suffering from pain.”
But Haynes also left a mark on his fellow providers that extended beyond the clinical setting. Hogue still remembers when he met Haynes in 2006 as an undergraduate student at the University of South Alabama.
"I was in awe and initially intimidated by the vast amount of knowledge he possessed. He was an amazing teacher and an even better man. Over the years, Dr. Haynes was not only my mentor, but he became a dear friend and a father-like figure,” he said. “Simply put, Dr. Haynes was and will always be a legend to me. He helped me through some difficult times, and I will always appreciate him for that.”
Haynes’ impressive legacy as a healthcare provider, researcher, mentor and champion for diversity was recognized with a commendation, which acknowledges an individual in the same way as a proclamation, issued by the governor’s office earlier this year.
“He joined the USA faculty in 1984 as the first African-American clinical and basic sciences faculty member where he served as a devoted mentor to countless students and a tireless advocate for more opportunities in medicine for students from disadvantaged communities,” it reads.
While the center’s staff remember their mentor and friend, they also feel called to follow his example.
“In his honor and out of great respect, the staff and I are highly motivated to continue the legacy of Dr. Haynes,” Pack-Mabien said. “We are focused on providing quality, compassionate, and evidence-based care for our patients as well as promoting sickle cell awareness in the community.
“I, as well as many others, consider having worked with him an honor and privilege. His presence and sense of greatness and energy are missed by all.”