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When My Bones Dried Up

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In December of 2013, I was diagnosed with Very Severe Aplastic Anemia. I was just 19 years old at the time. What confuses me even to this day is that I had been healthy and active before this diagnosis. As a college student, I was very busy, but I also tried to eat healthily and went to the gym frequently. Subconsciously, I felt invincible.

It happened all at once and out of nowhere. One week I was enjoying my winter break, and the next week I was fighting for my life in the ICU, battling Pneumonia and the swine flu with an almost non-existent immune system.

My life completely flipped. I had never really been sick before – I couldn’t even remember the last time I had the flu. Suddenly, I had a rare illness. I became a patient in a large hospital. My hematologist explained to me that I needed a bone marrow transplant and discussed treatment options like chemotherapy and other medications.

Honestly, it took me a while to understand the severity of my condition. I was oblivious and hopeful. I remember daydreaming in the hospital, fully convinced that I would be all better within a couple of weeks and back to my normal life. But I soon realized that wasn’t the case.

After 1 month in the hospital, I went home to continue my recovery. Every day involved a ridiculous amount of medications. Twice a week, I visited the hospital for check-up appointments, as well as blood transfusions to keep my body going until it could produce enough blood on its own.

One of the hardest parts was abandoning all the things I had done before my diagnosis. I took a medical leave from school, my internship, and pretty much gave up everything else. Going anywhere left me at a high risk of infection because of my weak immune system. I spent most of my time at home or at the hospital. One-hundred percent of my focus went to my health.

I missed my normal life.

It even transformed the lives of the people around me. My mom quit her job so that she could take care of me, and my family did everything they could to make sure I stayed healthy. We were living in a different world.

As my condition slowly improved, I began going to appointments a little less frequently. But my progress became stagnant about 6 months into my treatment. So, the doctor decided that I should undergo a second round of chemotherapy to treat my condition.

Six more months passed. Not much progress. There weren’t really many options left, and I still hadn’t found a match for a bone marrow transplant. Personally, I wanted that to be the last resort. I understood the risk behind receiving a transplant, and I still had hope that my health could improve without it.

I forgot to mention that a few months after I was diagnosed, I began seeing an acupuncturist. He treated me twice a week, but mainly encouraged me to follow a certain diet. I avoided the foods that he told me to avoid while doing my medical treatments.

Anyway, the chemotherapy wasn’t really working. My medications were making me feel worse and worse as time went by. Something needed to change.

About 1.5 – 2 years after my diagnosis, I made a change. Without telling my hematologist, I actually started weaning myself off of my medications (careful to make sure it didn’t negatively affect me). Soon, I was taking almost no medication. I focused on living a healthy lifestyle, following the diet that my acupuncturist recommended, exercising, and praying that it would all work.

And it did.

Check-ups showed that I was improving at a faster rate—this wasn’t long after I had stopped taking my medications. After about 1 year of consistent improvement, I told my doctor that I had stopped taking my medications on my own. Thankfully, she was happy with the progress and told me to keep doing what I was doing.

Now, over 4 and ½ years later, things are looking great. I’ve graduated from university. I work full-time. My last appointment showed that my red blood cell count and white blood cell count are at a normal range, with my platelet count being a little low.

I’m lucky that this all happened while I’m still young. Yes, I know that sounds weird. But the fact that I was young meant my body had more strength to fight and recover. I’m sincerely thankful. No matter how difficult it has been, I live with much more gratefulness and vigor in life, and I feel ready to fight whatever comes ahead.

 

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  1. verthilertva

    January 17, 2020 at 10:17 am

    whoah this blog is wonderful i love reading your articles. Keep up the great work! You know, lots of people are searching around for this info, you could help them greatly.

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Interviews and Stories

Medical Student Dillon Dejam Shares Important Insights through MD Program and Beyond

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  1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your educational background? I’m a second year medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine here at UCLA. I grew up in Los Angeles County and I graduated high school in 2012. Then, I went to UC Irvine, to start my undergraduate studies. I started out as a general Biological Sciences major and then in between my second and third year I decided to specialize in biochemistry and molecular biology. I graduated UCI in 2016, and I took two gap years between my undergraduate and my medical school. I started medical school here at UCLA in fall of 2018, and I’ve been here ever since then and it’s been awesome.
  2. Why did you choose biology as a major for your undergraduate at UCI? I always had this inkling of an idea that I wanted to become a physician. When you apply to college, from high school, and you know that you’re interested in going to medical school. You figure “Hey, I might as well be a biology major that seems to align the most with, you know, being a physician”. That’s the main reason why I decided to apply as a biology major. I figured it was the most applicable to what I was hoping to do in the future. I also just in general loved my biology classes in high school as well so it seemed obvious that was the route that I should take.
  3. Is there a specific field that you’re hoping to pursue in the future? I’m not really set on one field. I spent some time shadowing in a couple of different specialties, and we start our clinical rotations in our third year so I’m hoping to have a better idea of what I’d like to do after I go through my rotation. I always thought that surgery was very interesting so I’m looking forward to my surgery rotation, and I’m looking forward to experiencing more of the other specialties that we get exposed to in our third year. You really don’t know what [a specialty] is going to be like, until you’re in it. So, it’s definitely important to keep an open mind, especially because medicine can be very broad and diverse.
  4. What is the most challenging part of medical school?  I think the most challenging part is maintaining the ability to not compare yourself to others. Once you’re in medical school, you have this feeling of now I really can’t mess anything up and everything has to be perfect from here on out because I’m finally where I want it to be, and we try to keep up with what everyone else is up to, and we’re constantly comparing ourselves to others. I think this tends to produce some stress and anxiety for a lot of people. I think that conquering that has been my biggest accomplishment. Just realizing that I’m on my own journey, and nothing beneficial is going to come from comparing myself to others. Nowadays the only reason why I compare myself to others is to try to get ideas, or to try to get inspired. I’m just accepting myself for who I am and I’m following my passions and my interest, and I think that was hard at first. I’m starting to just accept who I am and accept that there’s certain things that I want to do and things that I don’t want to do and that’s totally fine.
  5. How have you prioritized your mental health? I think it kind of just goes back to accepting myself for who I am and what my interests are. Doing things that get me excited and doing all this stuff on the side because it makes me happy but if you told me to go and do something that I don’t want to do, it’s going to be challenging for me. Allowing myself to not force myself to do things that I don’t want to do has been really helpful. I’m really lucky that I go to UCLA because our curriculum in the first two years is pass or fail. We have an exam every six to eight weeks. So, in general, there’s really only one exam every six to eight weeks that you have to pass, and I think it’s a relatively more relaxed curriculum compared to some other schools, so I’m really lucky to be here at UCLA. And we have a lot of great resources; they have free counseling and therapy services for all the medical students.
  6. What are some tips that you would give to people aspiring to be doctors? I think having a passion or hobby outside of school and academics and medicine can also be helpful. Do what interests you, dip your toes into anything you think that you would be interested in because college is the time to really explore. This is the only time where you’re going to be around other people who are your age, who are experiencing a similar environment and who are also trying to figure out what they want to do. College is just an amazing time to explore. There are so many different organizations and opportunities and clubs on campus. I think if there’s one word I could use to summarize the idea of college experience, it is opportunity.
  7. Can you talk a bit more about your podcasts and why you decided to start doing podcasts? I’m really passionate about music. When I was in elementary school, I discovered a genre of music that I was really passionate about, and growing up, iTunes had the podcast features. When I was in high school I discovered that these DJs that I loved uploaded weekly mixes onto the podcast on iTunes. So ever since I was in like 9th or 10th grade in high school, I began listening to these iTunes podcasts and then I wondered, “oh hey it would be so cool if I could have a show of my own, or a podcast of my own one day”. Fast forward to my third year of college at UCI, I started getting involved in the radio station there. And I eventually got my own weekly radio show, where I DJ live on air for two hours every Wednesday night, and I played music that I absolutely loved and I talked for a little bit on air. I did that for like three and a half years like even in my gap years, and that was like one of the coolest things that I did. That was the hardest extracurricular to end because I just love it so much. So, when medical school started I thought about dabbling in a radio station here at UCLA. A few months later I decided I could easily just start my own podcast that revolves around the stuff that I’m doing on social media and this would be an excellent way for me to broadcast, my perspectives and these things that I think people should hear if they’re interested in going to medical school, or just in general people who are interested in learning more about how they could better take advantage of their college experience. So, it just started with this love for music and having a radio show, and now I feel like I kind of have a similar setup now with my podcast.
  8. What are your thoughts about health? (Policies, illnesses, current news, etc.) I’m really passionate about exercise and being active. It’s something that I didn’t discover until I got to college; I wasn’t really like an athletic kid growing up. Now it’s a big part of my life and I’m really passionate about spending time in the gym. You know, you can easily say things like, “Hey, you know, every American needs to exercise for XYZ amount of time every week”. Those are the recommendations set forth sometimes. However, I think there’s a lot of personal factors that go into people’s ability to exercise and eat healthy. I think that, it would be nice if we could find a way to address personal factors as opposed to just telling people that they need to exercise more and eat healthy. I just think it’s important that we kind of try and understand the background that people are living in, as opposed to just telling them that they need to eat well and exercise more because it’s harder for some than others.
  9. What are some work experiences you have had either in undergraduate or medical school that have inspired you? The whole reason why I decided to go into medicine is because I value relationships. I worked as a medical scribe during my gap years between medical school and undergraduate, and as a medical scribe you’re not really interacting with patients directly; you observe countless physician patient interactions. Watching things from the outside, I really started to understand the effect that a physician’s words can have on how a patient feels, and what a patient knows about what’s going on is so meaningful. I think that was a defining experience for me. I want to have these awesome relationships with my patients where I feel like I’m providing value to their life and to their health.
  10. What motto do you live by on a day to day basis? Just do what you want to do. I think as long as you’re doing things for the right reason, which is because you want to do it, then, you’re always going to end up coming out on top.

To learn more about Dejam, please visit the links to his social media platforms as well as his podcast: 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dillondejam

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/medschooldillon/

Podcast: https://anchor.fm/dillon-dejam

This is a guest-post, and the opinion is of the guest writer. If you have any questions with any of the articles, please contact wordofhealth1@gmail.com.

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Interviews and Stories

Meet Mohammad Rimawi, D.P.M.

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1. Can you tell me about yourself and your educational background?

  • My name is Mohammad Rimawi, and I am a podiatrist practicing in NYC. I earned my doctorate from the New York College of Podiatric Medicine. I was fortunate enough to serve as class president for four years and was also recognized with the Student Service Award. That award goes to the student voted by the graduating class as making the biggest impact on the field of podiatry. I was also inducted into the Pi Delta Honor Society for my achievements in research and studies.

2. Why did you decide to pursue medicine? And why podiatry specifically?

  • Growing up I was very active in sports. Unfortunately, this lead to various injuries to my ankle. This then lead me to explore the world of medicine and podiatry as a whole.

3. What are some of your past work experiences that led you into your profession?

  • Before podiatry, I worked in a pet shop for over 14 years. Although this has no relation to my current work, I do believe the social encounters from my time there helped me become more engaged and attentive to my patients now.

4. What is your most favorite part of your job?

  • Helping people get back on their feet. Whether it be through a routine procedure like removing an ingrown toenail, or performing a reconstructive surgery, my greatest sense of accomplishment is making patients feel better after they have seen me.

5. What is the most fulfilling experience/ interaction you have had with your patients?

  • Getting patients back on their feet is always a rewarding experience. From diabetic limb salvage, treating traumatic injuries, or relieving the aches of day to day foot pain, they all provide me with a sense of accomplishment.

6. What are some of your hobbies/activities and how do they tie into your profession?

  • I still participate in sports activities, mainly basketball. My profession and experiences have definitely prepared me on how to prevent injuries but also how to respond if such an event were to occur. I enjoy reading nonfiction books in my spare time as well.

7. Has there been a life-changing moment that defines who you are today?

  • When I was 15, I went back to Palestine for the first time since a child. The few months there definitely shaped who I am today. I developed a greater sense of appreciation for the opportunities that I was given in the United States and strive to maximize on them daily. This appreciation fuels my work ethic in any endeavor I pursue.

8. What is a primary advice you would give to your patient?

  • Prevention is always the best medicine. It’s not enough to follow doctors orders when you’re ill or in need; you must maintain a healthy and well nourished lifestyle constantly. The prevention of a disease will always be better than its cure, and this is the motto we should all abide by.

9. What are your thoughts about health?

  • The health field continues to advance which is promising. However, with the rise of social media it is concerning with the amount of false information that is released to the public. I would urge the public to always visit a professional in their time of need. Social media is useful tool for information but should not be your only source.

10. What motto do you live by on a day to day basis?

  • “Hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard.” Everything I have accomplished up until this point, I can attribute to a strong work ethic.

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Interviews and Stories

Get to Know Dr. Ebonie Vincent, D.P.M. and Her Journey to Podiatry

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  1. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your educational background?
    • I grew up in Temecula CA, and attended Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia and majored in Biology. I knew I wanted to go into the medical field, with an emphasis on sports medicine. I went to do a Master at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Philadelphia, PA where I earned a Masters in Biomedical Science. It was here that I discovered the field of podiatry. I spent four years at Des Moines, Iowa and did a three-year intense surgical residency training at Inspira Health Network before going into private practice. I currently work in private practice in Orange County. I see patients during clinic hours, and then perform surgeries in and around clinical hours. I generate consistent patients who may have ongoing foot problems that need care every couple of months as well as patients who have deformities or injuries that require surgical attention.
  2. What drew you into the field of podiatry?
    • I did a lot of shadowing before embarking on the field of podiatry.  I knew I wanted a surgical specialty and podiatry fit my career ambitions and lifestyle. I have had personal experience with the field of surgery was when I had two torn Acls, and that was my official introduction to the orthopedic side.  Although I found podiatry much later in life, I found this field fit my passion. Podiatrists make people happy, and that reflected my personality and everything I wanted to give back in my career. The surgical aspect was also very appealing.
  3. Who or what is the greatest influence in your life?
    • My family as a whole has been extremely influential. I come from a family of educators that geared me in the right direction. They knew that it was important that my personality fits my career choice. As a result, my drive and passion come from family knowledge and support.
  4. What is your most favorite part of the job?  
    • I like making sure I do everything I can to help a patient feel better and progress in their lives.
  5. What are your additional hobbies?
    • I like to exercise and eat healthily; that ties into my passion for preventive healthcare and allows me to set a good example for my patients. Besides that, I love watching Broadway musicals.
  6. What has been one of the most life-changing moments for you?
    • My dad had ruptured his Achilles tendon and had surgery.  He flew on a plane just a week or so after to see me graduate from college and developed a blood clot! This was extremely life-threatening, and It is definitely something that has shaped the way I treat my patients. I give my patients as much information as possible and that speaks more so to my philosophy of preventative care. I would rather catch a health problem before operating on a patient because surgeries can be mentally and physically demanding.
  7. What is some advice you would give to a patient as they embark on their health journey?
    • Be mindful of your health and do not mask pain, because pain is a great indicator. Pain is what lets doctors know where they can treat their patients.
  8. What are your thoughts about healthcare?
    • I think that we would spend a lot less money on healthcare if we chose to focus on and emphasize preventive care. Often times preventative measures are difficult to get covered, so I try to embody mindfulness and make lifestyle factors a priority. I also let my patients know what the best treatment options are. This is why it is great to have a patient and doctor relationship. Us physicians need to work to tailor your individual needs.
  9. What motto do you live by on a day to day basis?
    • Just do your best all the time, whether you are a student, patient, doctor or other professional. What matters is that you give everything your 100% effort.

Here is a link to contact Dr. Vincent for any inquiries:

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