ImproveCareNow Pac


DIGMA: Group Medical Appointments

In the decade I have lived with Crohn’s Disease, I have steadfastly steered clear of support groups. It always seemed as though I were resigned to a couple of options in talking about my Crohn’s: 1) stick with my private medical appointment with only my parents and doctor, or 2) cautiously venture into the mysterious world of support groups. I exclusively favored the first option, and carefully built my community of friends with IBD a la patient advocacy and volunteering. And while that strategy worked for me, I only recently realized there’s another way.When Sami and I were invited to participate in the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters (“CHKD”) team’s demonstration of the group medical appointment (better known in the medical community as Drop-In Group Medical Appointments, “DIGMA”) at the ImproveCareNow Spring Learning Session, we were happy to help. We were admittedly unaware of how a DIGMA session worked; and arguably incredibly naïve about the feasibility and sustainability of a model that – at first glance – seemed to be the very kind of ooey-gooey-woe-is-me support group we had intentionally evaded.

 

Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters at the Spring 2014 Learning Session during their DIGMA demoChampioned by the passionate team at CHKD in Norfolk, Virginia, the DIGMA model has enjoyed strong support from clinicians and families alike. Dr. Marc Tsou was introduced to the idea in the late 90’s when a parent gave him an article about the group model structure, about which he says, “It seemed to make so much sense. I thought of how many times in the day I’d say the same medical information to several families. Say that information six times, how inefficient, then think about how much that group appointment concept makes sense.” Dr. Tsou saw an opportunity to meaningfully build on the clinic’s collaborative culture; “Elements were there, the right type of people and group. The doctors were the ones who said we’ve got to do this, we’ve got to do this, the time was right, it was almost fate.” Fueled by his fearless nurse, Terri, Dr. Tsou and the CHKD team set about bringing the DIGMA model to their IBD families.

 

The first step was reaching out to a variety of clinicians – such as dieticians and social workers – to ensure that the group visits did not just include patients & families, but also a group of diversified care providers. After sending out an email to potential clinician participants, positive responses began to rush in. “For the most part all responded and had someone to come and participate,” Terri says. “Everybody was super receptive to it, they’ve showed up at every one since.”

 

Annette Kulzer, a mom of three boys including 16-year-old Kolin who lives with IBD, has been instrumental in running the group model appointments. “As a parent,” she says. “It opens doors to meet people we would have not met. If we were in another setting, we wouldn’t hear those stories.” An early adopter and believer in the DIGMA model, Annette has regularly provided a parent’s perspective into how the group appointments run. For example, after a group appointment with female and male patients, Annette suggested having separate groups for each gender and for different ages ranges to encourage comfort and participation. Annette and Kolin emphasize the sincerity of Dr. Tsou’s malleability in running the group sessions, and they always appreciate the weight their feedback holds.

 

In addition to the accessibility to a variety of clinicians and retaining certain elements of the traditional solo medical appointment (e.g., a one-on-one physical exam), the DIGMA model had a surprising but welcome impact; it provided novel insight for patients, parents, and clinicians alike through storytelling. Annette remembers a teenage patient who recounted having great difficulty taking the bus to sporting events with her teammates, since she was worried she might urgently need to use the bathroom. The story challenged Annette to reconsider Kolin’s hesitation to ride with his teammates to a game, as she came to understand that her son – who rarely complained – shared a similar fear that had gone unspoken.

 

Jill, CHKD’s social worker agrees that sharing stories can be incredibly eye-opening, and says, “It’s very, very different when you can look into the face of another mom or another dad or another kid, and say I understand this. Okay here’s somebody like me, they’re doing alright.” Dr. Tsou adds, “There was one mom who broke down into tears, she got very emotional, you think gee these sessions no one will share very much, but really they’re sharing their souls and baring their deepest fears. People might be skeptical but it really happens, but that’s super gratifying, a bit surprising, and confirmed to us that we’re on to something and something that deserves the attention and energy to keep it going.” When asked about group session attendees who were unsure at first, Annette says, “We’ve had many patients and parents who come in resistant, but within 15 minutes they’ve had the Kool-Aid.”

 

The group session can also be liberating for patients, who perhaps fear that IBD will be an “albatross around their neck for the rest of their lives.” Kolin enthusiastically agrees, adding, “Telling people what you’re going through helps a lot.” Positive and on target support grows organically from the patient-driven and clinician-facilitated model, and Kolin says, “You’re going to get so much out of it.”

 

While the organizational burden was heavy at the beginning, the team has happily tackled logistical issues to provide this innovative practice to their patients. Dr. Tsou explains, “The group appointment allows for so much more sharing of feelings, fears, and that’s really what so many families want and need and it allows it in the framework of still providing care. We’ve all had to learn a little different way of doing it.” Terri adds, “No harm in trying something, and I would guarantee that if others tried this model, they wouldn’t go back, it really does impact patients and families.”

 

But the potential of the DIGMA model doesn’t stop there: the team sees practical applications to rural communities (i.e., being able to run a group session in a rural community to maximize patients who can be seen), and across medical specialties. Dr. Tsou says, “I think it’s going to be more mainstreamed. It is the way medicine will be practiced in the future, we’re at the leading edge of it, which is cool.” Kolin adds, “I really want it to spread. I was really skeptical of it at first, but I really do enjoy the DIGMA model.”

 

A group medical appointment is, at its core, a treasure chest for patients, families, and clinicians; the ability to offer a holistic, patient-centered, and team-approach to pediatric care is innovative and vital to the collaborative and transparent culture championed by ImproveCareNow. The passion, integrity, and dedication the CHKD team has for optimizing chronic illness care is not only evident, but most importantly completely contagious. “We’re all passionate about our patients,” says Terri. “We were born to do this, it’s been really wonderful. Everyone had the spirit, it was right for us.”

 

 Jennie


Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone…


The announcement from Daniel McLinden that the ICN Exchange was back up.

 

Recently, the ICN Exchange needed to undergo maintenance unexpectedly for two days. Some people in the ImproveCareNow Network probably noticed it more than others. I know that as someone who has come to rely on it to keep up with what centers are working on and looking at, I was keenly aware of its absence.  So you can imagine how thrilling it was when it came back online!

 

Now that the Exchange is back up and running (and better than ever - with plans and resources in place to prevent such outages in the future!) it occurs to me that even a quick glance at the Exchange clearly shows the richness, diversity, vibrancy—and the multifaceted dynamics of our community.

 

When I glanced at the Exchange today this is what I saw:

 

Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters' DIGMA model demo video from the Spring 2014 Learning SessionImproveCareNow centers, like Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters, jumping in and collaborating with parents, patients, and other centers to make sure that we are all learning together!
Call for clinicians to sign up for a focus group to dicuss what has worked and what hasn't worked when trying to get patients and families involved in QI work at ImproveCareNow centers.

 

Opportunities that highlight how much we really, really want and need to learn from each other so we can collaborate even better!

 

The first ever announcement for a ImproveCareNow Dietician webinar Multidisciplinary partners, like the RD group, are staying connected with each other and getting organized so they can The new online 90 day goals tracker for ImproveCareNow centers to track and monitor their Improvement project goals and progress quarterlytake on projects that will build their visibility and leadership in ImproveCareNow.

 

ImproveCareNow QI teams are becoming even more accountable and transparent in their day-to-day QI work.

 

The Parent Working Group of ImproveCareNow is now setting and working on 90 Day Goals and in the spirit of transparency is sharing them with the whole NetworkParent Partners are setting their 90 day goals, tracking their progress and keeping the Network informed!The Patient Advisory Council request to ImproveCareNow participants to co-produce an Ostomy Toolkit for patients with permenant or temporary ostomies.

 

And finally, amazing patients around the country are teaching us more and more every day.


 

And that is just a quick glance! So thank you to everyone who has been a part of helping us build this vibrant community. I, for one, can’t wait to see where the community goes next!



The ICN Exchange is an internal knowledge-sharing platform that the ImproveCareNow Network uses to communicate, collaborate and innovate across the miles. Clinicians, Researchers, Patients, Families and Improvers are able to log into the ICN Exchange and share seamlessly and steal shamelessly!  The ICN Exchange has enabled ImproveCareNow to extend our “all teach, all learn” collaborative approach to medicine far beyond our monthly webinars and twice-annual Learning Session. It allows us to identify ideas and best practices in pediatric IBD care and introduce them into the care delivery process much faster—improving care for our patients now.


Drum Roll Please...

In only a couple of days, there will be a flurry of texting between Sami and I, sending pictures of packing and potential Learning Session outfits back and forth. Yesterday I sent Sami a few pictures of a sample outfit, to which she instantly texted back, “I like it!! It looks professional and cute!” (Note: said outfit was, indeed, packed immediately)

 

Last night I was pouring over an email with the Learning Session agenda, clicking on the various hyperlinks for teasers about the plethora of exciting things to come. One link sent me to pictures posted on the ICN Exchange of various ImproveCareNow teams; I chuckled at the Boston Children’s Hospital team’s faces photo-shopped onto duck statues (a la Make Way for Ducklings), the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team’s matching t-shirts, the MassGeneral Hospital for Children team’s “We love ICN” sign (complete with a full GI tract doodle), and – finally – the ICN Exchange “Team Oscar Selfie” (a gutsier version of Ellen’s now infamous Oscar celebrity selfie).

 

Nothing like previewing pictures of the big-hearted, gutsy-humored, determined-with-all-their-might-to-change-chronic-illness-care care center teams to get me excited about the Spring Learning Session!

 

Spring 2014 ImproveCareNow Learning Session

 

Sami and I have tried (and, notably, failed) at accurately articulating the pure excitement, joy, motivation, and positive energy that’s simply contagious at the Learning Session. Here in text, it sounds cheesy and like ImproveCareNow is prodding us to write down such ooey-gooey sentiments. But, let me reassure you on behalf of Sami and myself, our ooey-gooey praise is exceedingly well-deserved and comes directly from our hearts (read: guts).

 

In addition to the undeniable culture of optimism and innovative thinking, there are always particular sessions we just cannot wait for. Following are the things we look forward to most at the Spring Learning Session:





    • PAC Reunion: The Learning Session is the one time when the PAC Leadership is able to brainstorm in-person (and also eat lots, and lots of candy!). We look forward to seeing each other face to face, and are always astonished by the amount of important work we get done in a couple of days. This Learning Session will be the first where our full PAC Leadership will be in attendance (PAC co-chairs - Jennie & Sami, and Patient Scholars - Katherine & Tyler) – we just can’t wait!!

 


    • QI Fundamentals: Sami and I stumbled upon this last year as we both arrived early, and were quickly enthralled with the phenomenal centers who are our newest family members in the network. This is a wonderful opportunity if you’re in need of some inspiration (note: by the end of the weekend, you’ll be bursting with inspiration!) or a Quality Improvement refresher, and is a fantastic way to meet upcoming superstars in the network.

 


    • Opening Reception: Here, there, and everywhere – the reception is filled with amazing people and is an awesome chance to network, socialize, and get the 411 on the network’s progress and innovations with the variety of poster presentations. Also, keep an eye out for some Patient Advisory Council members who will be reprising their roles interviewing reception attendees!

 


    • The Learning Health System Today and Tomorrow: The opening never fails to deliver in motivating every cell of every attendee, and – who are we kidding – we always love seeing Dr. Margolis and Dr. Colletti (and, if we’re lucky, they’ll coordinate their outfits!).

 


    • Lunch: Food, food, more food, and lots of networking! We always fill up with some nourishment and get the chance to meet new centers, parents, and the clinicians at various centers that we are humbled to call friends.

 


    • The Learning Health System, The Months Ahead: The closing is reliably the time when you will need a stash of tissues compliments of the remarkable speeches from parents and patients. After the excitement of the weekend and the endless research ideas and connections you’ve developed, the closing is a perfect opportunity to digest (yes, pun intended) the entire experience and head home with genuine motivation that you won’t soon forget.



We can’t wait for the collaboration, the innovation, the passion, the insight, and to continue to watch children and their families living with IBD receive better, and better holistic healthcare.

 

So pack your bags (or join us on Twitter and follow the Learning Session hashtag #ICNLS) and get excited – the Spring Learning Session is just around the corner!

 

Jennie + Sami


Transitioning at Children's Mercy Hospital

When I was little, I had a lilac-purple colored bicycle. There were shiny streamers at the ends of the white handlebars, which would often catch the wind as I rode through a field near our house, my parents cheering and running behind me holding tight to the lip of the seat. Having gotten used to the stable comfort of riding my tricycle around our quiet suburban cul-de-sac, I remember feeling both terrified and thrilled at the expanse of the field and my ‘big girl’ two-wheeler. Learning to ride my bike – like most things in life – was a skill that required a lot of technical and emotional support from others, and a belief that I could do it.

 

A few months before I graduated high school at 17, I went to the hospital with my Mom for the so-called “transition appointment.” We had been sheltered and insulated in the pediatric world, full of pastel-colored murals, teddy bears, and bandages that were cut into heart shapes. The adult medical world was cryptic and distant – a new building, new doctors, new nurses, new everything. While everyone was perfectly polite, the transition appointment consisted of being told which adult doctor I was going to see and when/where I had to show up; there were no choices, no decisions, no questions. And there was no road-map for how to get from point A (pediatric care) to point B (adult care).

 

There are two important concepts that often get conflated: transition is the careful, premeditated, and inclusive process of educating and empowering an individual to be responsible for one’s health, while transfer is the physical change of moving to a new medical facility (e.g., pediatric to adult hospital). Transition is the meaningful process of gaining and growing skills like medical literacy, advocacy, adherence strategies, and so on. It requires a team of people (patient, parent, pediatric and adult doctors, nurses, etc.) working together to empower the patient. It’s the difference between learning to ride that little purple bike in a big field with lots of support versus just being given the bike with no guidance about how to use it.

 

According to Dr. Michele Maddux, a clinical psychologist at Children’s Mercy Hospital, who helped develop their transition program, Mercy’s efforts had previously involved transferring medical records and, “finding an adult provider, with significantly less focus on equipping adolescent patients with the tools and skills needed to successfully manage their health care needs.” Seeing this gap, Dr. Maddux and a dedicated transition task-force set out to create a holistic transition program that managed the clinical issues while taking lifestyle matters and family perspectives into account. They started by interviewing each of the pediatric gastroenterologists (GIs) on service to ensure physician engagement in the project and to capture their unique perspectives. They also created a GI roundtable and invited pediatric and adult GIs to have transparent conversations about transition. This resulted in a provider database and helped to dispel some of the myths that pediatric and adult GIs had about each other. The success of the roundtable and the transition task-force’s efforts culminated in the hiring of a transition coordinator and the development of a transition readiness screener for patients as well as educational materials for patients and families undergoing transition. The educational materials were vetted by Mercy’s general parent and teen advisory boards (i.e., not IBD specific) and by parents of children living with IBD.

 

Cue Jamie Hicks – a perfect fit into the role given her nursing background and a busy mom of three, including 10-year-old Colson who lives with Crohn’s. Prior to reviewing the transition materials, Jamie said, “[i]t simply wasn’t on my radar… I think of him growing up and how the disease will impact his future. But I never linked that to him taking over my ‘job’ as the manager of his health care.” Jamie praised the educational materials as “fantastic”, underscoring the importance of a defined direction and plan over guessing and uncertainty. Jamie’s main contributions were adjusting the material’s language, which she believes can have a large impact on how the information is received and understood by kids and families. According to Dr. Maddux, “Jamie brought a much needed patient/family voice to our materials that gave us a unique opportunity to craft our educational materials to meet the needs of families.”

 

Both Dr. Maddux and Jamie reiterate the vital importance of creating space for parents in research projects. Dr. Maddux pointed to the language and format changes as key edits that would have gone unaddressed without parent and patient engagement. Jamie addressed the critical role parents play as the people who most intimately understand their children beyond the clinic by helping to appropriately tailor educational materials and provide ‘behind the scenes’ information about children's motivations and worries. Similarly, they are both passionate about transition being relationship-based and starting as early as possible so the changes in medical responsibility are empowering and fitting for each child and familial situation.

 

We may not have a cure for IBD, but thanks to the insight and persistence of Dr. Maddux’s team and parents like Jamie, it is possible to implement a comprehensive, team-based transition program that prepares young patients with IBD to manage their own care. We can give our patients the encouragement, support, and information they need to ‘ride their bikes’ with strength and confidence.

 

After dozens of tries back in that field on my purple bicycle, I finally pushed off the ground, my feet finding the pedals and my eyes trained on the horizon, newly sturdy and sure of myself, and off I went pedaling across the field as my parents clapped and whistled. It hadn’t been easy, but I did it.

 

And together, we can make sure all of our kids can do it too.

 


Together

I met with up an old friend for tea. As we were standing in line, she asked about my college friends and how they were doing. I started talking about one, and she interrupted, asking, "Is that the girl with Crohn's?" "No," I said, and named another disease. My friend smirked, and said, "Do you have any healthy friends?"

It's an ongoing joke amongst my family and closest friends that, in order for me to know someone, they have to have a chronic illness. To an outsider examining those I have chosen to be 'my people,' it would indeed seem that having an illness is some form of a requirement - the vast majority of my close friends have chronic illnesses. The natural thought is that we're friends because of being young with chronic illnesses, but that is not completely true.

They did not choose me because of my illness, or in spite of my illness, but rather they chose me with my illness. Living with a pediatric chronic illness has been, in my experience, a simultaneous growing up and growing down: the growing up is bumpy and circuitous, while the growing down is shirking off the medical maturity and fumbling to fit in and understand peers without disease. I have several wonderful, empathetic, incredible friends who - surprise, surprise - do not have chronic illnesses, and these people have been unimaginably understanding, supportive, and encouraging. But, in light of a variety of challenges my friends with chronic illnesses have been facing, I wanted to write this post in explaining the beauty of a friendship steeped in chronic illness.

To my friends with chronic illnesses:

Thank you -

For understanding that when I say I'm having a 'bad day,' I'm really not feeling well but trying to be brave. For sending me funny pictures and sweet cards in the mail. For never replacing true empathy with an easy platitude.

Thank you for seeing the strength in my struggles, the determination in my pain, the resilience in my scars. For knowing that I am not my disease, but like a tree with a missing limb, I am whole even if my body is not.

I am better for being your friend - better for sharing my story with you and better for listening patiently to yours. I am so full of everything good because of your willingness to hear me when I'm terrified and upset, to celebrate my triumphs when I push on, to let me have a moment of fear before you tell me I can do anything.

We are not friends because we are sick - it may be how we found each other, but we are friends because we are puzzle pieces that click together, choruses to the same song, hands that were meant to hold the other. I look at you and see you, not your disease, not your pills, not your doctors, not your prognosis. We see one another when sometimes everyone else can only see the mask.

I hurt when you hurt, but I will always be there for you, just as you are there for me.

This is a thank you, a celebration, a marking of how much your friendship means to me. Words will never do this justice, but I wanted to try.

For now and for always, thank you.

Jennie


Words Into Action

It was a Monday and I had a migraine.

The hospital room was grey and muted.  I was on my side with my eyes closed, trying to wish away the headache. A suave, slicked-hair doctor – the new GI for the week – strode into the room, the curtains whooshing slightly with his arrival, followed by his resident, and my mother stood up from her chair. They all stood at the foot on my bed, a semi-circle, as I pulled my legs closer to me and rolled onto my back.

Within minutes, I went from sleepy and calm to sobbing and furious. I could hear myself talk, I could hear the escalation of my voice and the rising tremor as I began to cry, but no one was listening. Everything I said was countered – I said, “I want to go home,” and the doctor would say, “Yes, but…” and I would say again, demanding this time, “I want to go home,” and the doctor would repeat, “Yes, but…” Finally I broke eye contact with him, my voice boiling higher and higher, and instructed him just to tell me what he wanted since I clearly was not making my point. “Do whatever you want,” I said, “You just make a decision for me and stop pretending like I have a say, because clearly I don’t. Just tell me what you want me to do.”

I am someone who believes in the patient voice, in working with doctors, in pushing for what you think is right, in being persistent. What had happened to that girl and who was this person, someone who just threw her hands up and willingly handed over her decision-making rights to a doctor she’d never met?

It is very easy to talk about change and use wonderful terms like “patient-centered care” and “shared decision-making.” It is easy, and often it is done with the best of intentions. It is much more difficult, however, to put these things into practice alongside busy lives and complicated patients. How do you achieve patient-centered care and shared decision-making with a patient such as myself, one with refractory disease who has ‘failed’ every traditional medication, has already undergone aggressive surgery, and who sits in front of you on her hospital bed, legs folded, eyes blurry with tears, asking you for the rest of her life, and all you can offer is another fluid bolus. What happens then?

In some ways, it was easier as a pediatric patient when I was not responsible for my care in full. And even though now I have legal rights as an adult patient, to decide what I think is best, in upsetting and frustrating situations I do notice myself defaulting to needing my parents. I find often my doctors are talking directly to my parents and forgetting that I am there. And, like that Monday, sometimes I feel like I have no power or ability to direct my care.

For me, there is an incredible and palpable dissonance between sentiments expressed about chronic illness care at ImproveCareNow Learning Sessions and in my own adult medical experiences. The system at play in many adult hospitals is, in various ways, broken and offbeat with patients – nevertheless, it functions ‘well enough’ that it’s left untouched, unchanged, unaffected by the gleaming and exciting collaborative thinkers just an arm’s length away. As someone who has been steeped in medical decision-making literature for the past several years, it feels appalling and shameful to admit that I hand over my care with such frustration and carelessness as I did that Monday. And yet, I’d also like to think that it exemplifies the sheer monstrosity of the challenges and barriers for patients who aspire to be involved in their care. Is that truly such a futuristic ideal? Is there really not room for me in my own care? As a young person with a chronic illness, I have found these types of encounters to be ineffably defeating and disenfranchising – to have to defend yourself, your beliefs, your values, and your preferences to every person in a white coat is offensive. It is as if the doctors claim ownership of your body, as if they can scrape your soul clean, fix your body, and then hand it back to you, as if a disease is your life versus a disease happening in the context of your life.

So what then am I saying about the young child in clinic, who will sit on your exam table, crinkling the thin paper as they climb up? What does all of this have to do with them? Firstly, it is your job – moreover, your responsibility – as clinicians and parents to empower that child in her medical care, to cheer her on, to apply an unwavering commitment and determination in helping her achieve her goals and ambitions. Even though a child does not have the legal ability to choose, there can always be small decisions for them to make (e.g., “Do you want the needle in your left arm or right arm?” or “Which bandage do you want?”). Secondly – and I wish I could say this to every person face-to-face who is reading to convey the seriousness and weight in this – young patients will grow up and will one day be adult patients. Two of the best strengths you can foster in these children are a conviction for medical advocacy and an unbreakable spirit to defend what they believe in. It may sound insignificant or small, but by always instilling a belief of ownership, we are opening the door to true participation in health care.

Because if we don’t tell them, who will?

Jennie

 


Tyler Moon for Empowered by Kids

Empowered by Kids Featured Patient Tyler MoonHave you ever felt like the Internet holds a vast amount of both the scariest and most wonderful information all at the same time?   Do you feel like when you’re searching for “good” news, hope or inspiration the only things you find are stories of darkness or bad news?  Well, there is a brand new place to share inspiration, hope and great stories from people just like you and me - who live with IBD.  This website also has a collection of trusted resources to visit for the most up-to-date information on Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

It’s called Empowered by Kids! Here is the link: http://empoweredbykids.com so you can check it out if you haven’t already. On it you’ll find stories and videos by kids and parents from around the country and the UK sharing their amazing IBD journeys (my story was just featured on December 8th). These  bring to light the many wonderful things these families have done to make a difference in the lives of others with IBD.  Empowered by Kids has given these patients and family members a place to share their voices, and to share the many ways we all can help make things better and easier for others with IBD.

Think of the number of people that could be impacted by each story! Wow, doesn’t that make you want to send your story in?  Wait, there's more!  Some of the stories on this site were collected and printed in a book especially for newly diagnosed IBD patients and families – to remind them that they are not alone. The Book of Hope is now being given out at ImproveCareNow centers. It’s all part of the amazing work happening within the ImproveCareNow Network. Together, we are making a difference for all patients and families impacted by IBD.

If you know someone who would like to share their story on Empowered by Kids, here’s the link to the online contact form http://empoweredbykids.com/our-mission/contacts. They can also send an email to [email protected] and share their story that way too.

[Editor's note: Tyler Moon is currently a C3N Project Patient Scholar and member of the ImproveCareNow Patient Advisory Council. He asked us to share this post on his behalf.]


Who is an advocate?

In honor of IBD Awareness Week, which wrapped up on Saturday, I thought I'd come back from my blogging hiatus and talk about what it means to be an advocate.

Over Thanksgiving break, I had a revealing conversation with my mom about my life in high school with ulcerative colitis. Her memories of how I coped with UC are not always how I remember myself coping. There were things that I heard from her perspective for the first time, and some of them were hard for me to revisit. I was reminded that I was once a vulnerable high-schooler - and while this is/was true for all of us, it was nevertheless hard for me to be faced with things from my past that I had unknowingly blocked for years.  I remember how much I once idolized many of the 'popular' IBD bloggers. I didn't really begin regularly reading IBD blogs until my senior year of high school, but once I did, they had a strong influence on me. One blogger ran a few opportunities for her readers to submit to group projects, and I emailed her a submission once. I remember just glowing when she responded. Of course, I realize now that she's just a normal young woman like me with IBD, but she was a celebrity to me then. It was around this time that I first started to imagine that just maybe I would one day be like her. That I could be an advocate, too.


IBD flare...a lesson in humility

Flare. It’s a common, yet dreaded, word used by IBD patients.

 

You would think that being a Crohn’s patient for nearly ten years, it would be a word I’d be quite comfortable with.   Or at least a word that I use when describing my medical history and disease symptoms to others…but, ironically, it’s not.

 

I’ve always been one to downplay the severity of nearly everything going on inside my disease-stricken body.  I’m sure many of you know just what I’m talking about.  These responses may look all too familiar to some of you…

 

“Today was a relaxing day…I got some good reading done!”  (While this is true, I strategically left out the part about doing 90% of that reading while in the bathroom.)

 

“Yes I had surgery last week, but no worries it was pretty minor”.  (Is there really anything minor about months and months of recovery time?!)

 

Or, my personal favorite…“Yeah, today was a good day!”  (Did I mention my “day” began when I was finally able to drag my fatigued body out of bed at 4 pm?)

 

While I pride myself on having a positive attitude and outlook most of the time, I’ve found that this positivity is also sometimes a warning sign that simply says one thing…denial!  My ability to seemingly immediately emphasize these “silver linings” is a way in which I deny what is actually going on with me to others, but more importantly, to myself.  Because let’s be real, who really wants to admit the reality of all that a flare entails!

 

And that, my friends, is why the word “flare” is not a common word in my vocabulary and I assure you it is not because I have been in remission for most of, or even half of, the last ten years.  It is because I don’t want to admit it.  For some reason, in my mind admitting this kind of thing threatens my ability to come up with endless silver linings and possibilities.  However, seeing that I have spent the majority of my time over the last four months between my bed, the bathroom, and the couch, I think it is safe to say…I am in a flare.

 

Saying those simple words is incredibly humbling for me.

 

Going from being a super independent 20-something to living back at home with my parents, needing help with the most basic of tasks is a huge lesson in humility.  I like to think that I can do it all, I can handle it.  And most days, that is absolutely true.  But sometimes, sometimes doing it all on your own isn’t necessary, and sometimes is just simply isn’t possible.

 

It is times like these in which I have to set aside my pride and rely on the support system around me to keep me going.

 

I must swallow my pride enough to reach out to the friend or family member that has said “let me know if you need anything” to say, I just really need someone to do a few loads of laundry for me, or could you come over this afternoon just to keep me company.

 

Yet one of the most humbling experiences I’ve had while being in a flare is that, quite simply, people can have a way of surprising you in the most unexpected ways.

 

Maybe the surprise comes when waking up to a chai tea latte (soy of course J) sitting on my night stand left there by my best friend stopping in as I was napping.

 

Perhaps it occurs when opening a package full of get well letters from a class of third graders, covered with drawings of the most adorable penguins because their wonderful teacher, and my dear friend, told them they were my favorite.

 

Or maybe it’s receiving an email from an IBD friend that simply says hey, I met another Crohn’s patient who is having a hard time and I think you’d really be able to help her.  And in that sentence, those few simple words, my sense of purpose is restored.

 

Humbling.  All of it is so incredibly humbling.

 

So here’s to being thankful for so many lessons in humility, and hoping that remission is right around the corner. And if it’s not, maybe it’ll be around the next one.


The PAC wants you...to email them

Jennie David and Sami Kennedy are co-chairs of the Patient Advisory Council (PAC), having taken over for the group’s founder and former chair, Jill Plevinsky. The PAC is a group of young, passionate and motivated patients with IBD who draw from their own personal experiences with chronic illness to educate and enlighten clinicians, researchers and other collaborators on how to design health care innovations that are making it possible for patients (and families) and their care teams to communicate more meaningfully with each other, to work together to investigate lifestyle changes that might have an impact on health and to truly share in decision-making about care – with the ultimate goal of getting more kids healthier, faster (and keeping them healthier longer).

 

Sami and Jennie – affectionately known as Gutsy 1 and Gutsy 2 or Jami – are not new to us. They have been active members of the PAC since early 2012 – when, without realizing it, they ‘jumped on the fast-track to super high-level engagement’. Since joining the PAC they have been engaged with ImproveCareNow and the C3N Project – and are well-known for their stirring contributions to LOOP.  Recently their role has deepened as they have been co-developing educational content and delivering presentations at Learning Sessions (our Fall 2013 Learning Session was approved for a record 14.5 CME and 15 CNE credits for eligible participants), participating on innovation teams and engaging with centers 1:1 to encourage patient involvement network-wide. They do all this on top of already full schedules – because they know, first hand, how transformative this work is.

 

It is transformative not only for ImproveCareNow and the C3N Project – which are collaborating to change the face of chronic illness care through innovative engagement and self-tracking approaches like the PAC and Passive PRO – but also for the patients themselves. As Jennie and Sami explained at the Learning Session earlier this month – “we weren’t always like this”. Starting as young kids getting handed diagnoses they didn’t ask for – Sami and Jennie have transformed into outspoken patient leaders; mentors and advocates for others living with IBD. It is their hope that many more will join them and that together – with a strong, sustainable culture of patient engagement through the PAC - they will continue to inform, educate and co-design a better way to care – one that takes into account the ‘person inside the patient’ and embraces the unique knowledge and perspective (and yes, expertise) that each patient brings to the table.



Here are Jennie and Sami’s reflections on ImproveCareNow and next steps for the PAC following the Learning Session

 

As patient advocates, there is something wonderfully refreshing about ImproveCareNow's Patient Advisory Council (PAC). It is unique in the sense that from the network leadership, all the way down to each center, the work of the PAC is celebrated and integrated in ways that outshine perfunctory patient involvement. PAC members are not involved because we have to be, we are involved because a) we want to be and b) care teams want us to be.

 

Enthusiasm and sincerity are synonymous with ICN, and yet the network is still an exemplary role model for movers and shakers in the pediatric chronic illness world. And so it seems only natural that the PAC emulate the inclusive, collaborative, out-of-the-box thinking as we build our council into an action-oriented, accessible group of patient advocates who actively engage in co-designing health care innovations, in brainstorming new and better ways to engage more patients, and in supporting the incredible efforts of everyone in the network.

 

The PAC strives to be a thoughtful and accessible resource for ICN care centers - as mentors to patients all the way through to colleagues in research. Over the next six months we plan to strengthen the council in the following ways: firstly we aim to develop and pilot, with the help of several centers, an effective recruitment strategy to welcome energetic and passionate patients into the PAC. Secondly, we believe it is important to create a community and culture of engagement and ownership amongst our PAC members. This is both to ensure members of the PAC are empowered by their experiences and that the council continues to grow and sustain itself. To that end we believe we must develop a sustainable succession plan.

 

As the co-chairs of the PAC, we remain extraordinarily humbled and thrilled by the endless encouragement and opportunities we have been afforded, and are admittedly a bit blinded by the spotlight. Nevertheless, we are honored to serve as patient advocates and work as part of this incredible network. As always, we will encourage you all (until we're blue in the face or there's a cure for IBD, whichever comes first!) to email us with questions, comments, suggestions, or anything you can think of! Like we said at the Fall Learning Session, we want to be your resources, your cheerleaders, your brain-stormers, and your colleagues.

 

You can always reach us at [email protected]

 

 


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