Giving back to young arthritis sufferers
At one of our student dinners earlier this year, I had an interesting conversation with a young woman named Molly Dushnicky. She told me about her interest in being a pediatric rheumatologist. In fact, one of my best friends is one of the top pediatric rheumatologists in the world: Ron Laxer, who you may remember from his recent guest blog on Rare Disease Day. Molly has connected with Ron and is currently seeking to do an elective rotation with him.
But there is more to Molly’s story than simply a med student who has her sights set on a specialty.
My office received an email a few weeks ago from a communications specialist at The Arthritis Society. She was writing to tell me about a young woman who had grown up with juvenile arthritis, whose experience has inspired her to become a pediatric rheumatologist. After years pursuing this dream, this young woman had earned a spot in medical school and is now in her first year here at Queen’s. That student is Molly.
For a healthcare professional, being a patient can be an eye-opening experience that can change your frame of mind. “Few experiences are more valuable to the physician than the experience of being a patient himself. Such an episode is worth a thousand lectures on the care of the patient.”1 Being in such a position can influence how you interact with your patients, how you engage your colleagues, and ultimately, it can change the way that you provide care.
John Leifer, an American healthcare administrator writes about his wife, Lori’s, experience of being diagnosed with the very thing that she treats: cancer. Following successful treatment and return to work, the way that she practiced medicine had shifted. “Lori continues to practice radiation oncology but brings a new perspective to her patients, honed through a brief yet arduous journey through cancer. Lori’s goal is to ensure that her patients have as much information as they wish to receive, and can reasonably process, about their disease; all delivered in an objective, but empathic manner. She believes that then, and only then, are they in a position to make truly informed decisions about their care.”2
Molly, who was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis when she was 18 months old, had only ever been on the patient side of care, and she was inspired by her experience to provide care for others. There is no doubt that her patient-perspective will provide unique and valuable insights as she trains to become a physician.
For today’s blog I would like to share with you an excerpt from a Queen’s Gazette story written by Andrew Carroll, about Molly’s journey to where she is today.
Molly Dushnicky has never really known a life without arthritis. However, as she points out, that has never slowed her down and is part of what drives her to help others.
“I don’t think I would be where I am and in the condition I am if I didn’t have such an absolutely fantastic team, and I really mean team, of health care professionals as I was growing up, the Thunder Bay native says. “It sounds really corny but I do really want to give back.”
A diagnosis like to one she received all those years ago is a difficult one, particularly for the parents, she explains. For the child it is a new reality, a life with periods of excruciating joint pain and swelling but also years where they can be primarily pain free. However, JIA takes its toll, on the sufferer and loved ones alike.
Part of it is coming to grips with the fact that you are different from your peers, something Ms. Dushnicky admits she struggled through her elementary and school years. But with support, she made it through, and volunteers with the Arthritis Society.
“It’s so inspiring to see someone like Molly, who has faced the challenge of arthritis for most of her life, committing herself to serving this community as a career,” says Joanne Simons, executive director, The Arthritis Society, Ontario Division. “Molly is an active supporter of The Arthritis Society and her enthusiasm and dedication are unwavering.”
Having lived with JIA will also help her when she achieves her “dream goal”.
“You do really need a lot of support. My family is fantastic so I have a lot of support with them. But anyone going through a chronic illness needs that mental and emotional support and it has to come from everybody – from your physician, from the nurses, your family,” she says.
After being diagnosed with JIA, Ms. Dushnicky was put on a treatment of low-dose methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug that also acts as an anti-inflammatory. However, it came at a cost as the drug also shuts down the immune system and made her feel generally unwell, much as a chemotherapy patient would.
She also was required to wear splints on her hands and legs which made her stand out when she first went to school. Fortunately here physiotherapist – on of those key members of her health team – came to her kindergarten class and explained her condition to her classmates. That little extra step helped break the barrier between Ms. Dushnicky and her classmates and provided a key early life lesson.
Please share your thoughts by commenting on the blog, or better yet, drop by the Macklem House, my door is always open.
Thank you to Jen Valberg, Communications Coordinator, for her assistance in preparing this blog.