Patient Scholar Sami KennedyIn October 2012, I arrived wide-eyed and a little afraid at my first ImproveCareNow Learning Session. I remember walking into the big room with my luggage and taking in the scene - so many brilliant clinicians and researchers I admired and greatly respected all in one hotel for one weekend. And here I was, too. I am nineteen - and so to many, I'm just a kid still. I didn't know what to expect, but I did expect to listen more than I spoke. After all, in a room full of some of my personal heroes, I was "just a patient."


As the inaugural Patient Scholars, to say that Jennie and I have been given the opportunity to live a dream would be an understatement. For a girl who expected to listen far more than she spoke, my voice has been valued more than I could ever have hoped or imagined. Jennie and I are just two patients - but to think about how many patient voices can and will resonate at future Learning Sessions excites me more than I can express. It's so clear to me now that "Just a patient" is not a concept that exists in ImproveCareNow.


On April 12th I returned to Chicago for the first Learning Session of 2013. Gutsy 2 (myself) may have been without her Gutsy 1 (Jennie) - but together through the art of virtual communication and the help of some friends, we didn't let a sudden strike of illness take away our weekend of hard work and joyous celebration. We shared in a presentation on self-management support and treatment adherence. We opened up about our stories and the accomplishments of the PAC (Patient Advisory Council) over the past year. We were inspired by stories of progress and achievement coming from all around the network. I even learned a new dance - the PDSA - aptly named after a fundamental quality improvement measure - because QI is really at the heart of making care better and thus rightfully deserved a spot at the heart of the celebration! (I expect PDSA to go viral on YouTube any day now.)


For a moment, when I landed in Chicago, I felt that familiar sudden shock of fear. For just a moment, I felt little again, like I was "just a patient" with a lot of ideas on the fringes of a great big community. But, this time, when I entered the conference room, I knew I belonged in this community. In one year's time, it's my hope that more patients will have felt the joy of this kind of welcome.


Five years ago today, I was waking up early - colon all cleaned out - and driving to the hospital with my mom, neither of us knowing I wouldn't be going home that day or that a whole new world was about to welcome us. Six months ago, when I arrived in Chicago for my very first Learning Session, I couldn't have even imagined myself standing in front of such a brilliant crowd and sharing my story - a story that only just begins with a diagnosis and hardship - on the level I did last weekend. Today, I can't imagine what comes next - but I know I'm humbled to have a voice that can share in the learning. I am eager to pass on the torch of leadership to the next Patient Scholars - because we all have stories, and many of the stories I heard last weekend touched me deeply and reminded me of why I do this.


I do this because, right now, another young girl and her mom are driving to the hospital - and they don't know what comes next - but I do.


That young girl will get better. And maybe, if we all reach our hands out together to say that everyone can make a difference and is valued on our team, she'll be able to help change care for the better for the next girl with IBD.


Like any good team, we are more than the names on the backs of our jerseys when we unite.  In this Network we are more than the names we go by: patient, parent, researcher, clinician. I am so proud to have a jersey on the ImproveCareNow team.


Together, we have quite the winning streak. And one day, I really do believe that we will achieve that cure, together.

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