By Wendy Sarubbi | October 23, 2013 11:13 am

A 35-year-old mother told UCF medical students her story of fighting kidney disease and learning to finally accept her mother’s gift of an organ transplant at a Narrative Medicine event designed to help physicians in training understand “the story behind the medicine.”

Eliana Stratico, an Argentinian native who received a kidney transplant from her mother 10 years ago, provided students with a detailed account of her healthcare journey, which still includes daily dosages of anti-rejection drugs.

The student group holds presentations such as Stratico’s to give future doctors deeper insight into the patient experience.  “Narrative Medicine is really a group that focuses on the humanism, the story behind the medicine and really trying to keep in touch with why you’re in medical school,” said Dr. Jonathan Kibble, who sponsors the group, and is assistant dean for medical education and a professor of physiology.

Some previous events gave students an opportunity to tell their stories through writing or focused on current healthcare issues like the Affordable Healthcare Act. Stratico was the first transplant patient to share her story. “We were really excited to bring in a real patient,” said second-year student and Narrative Medicine leader Diane Brackett. “As we all saw, she just knows an incredible wealth of information about her disease and was able to give a very detailed account.”

Stratico described how she began feeling sick as a teenager and doctors continued to monitor her creatinine levels for several years to see if she would require a transplant. A healthy kidney disposes of creatinine, a waste product produced by muscle metabolism. By the time Stratico reached her twenties, her creatinine levels had reached dangerous levels. “I looked like a very, very sick person,” she recalled. “The doctor told me that once the creatinine reaches 5 (mg/dL) it doesn’t go back down.”

Fortunately for Stratico, her mother turned out to be an excellent match for a kidney donation – but the daughter was unsure of accepting the gift, fearing it would change their relationship or would harm her mother’s health. “Of course, it was a huge crisis for me, but I wouldn’t accept my mother’s kidney,” she said. “Several people around me, particularly my husband, convinced me to take it.”

Ten years later, Stratico recounted her drastic health improvements, and how she was able to have a baby girl five years after the transplant. She highlighted challenges along  the way, including struggles to regulate her blood pressure, but considers herself very lucky. “I have to take seven pills with my breakfast, but what can I do?” she said. “There are many people who are in a worse situation than I was.”

Students asked  a variety of questions, including the impact of a transplant on pregnancy and the side effects of the medication she takes. Dr. Abdo Asmar, assistant professor of internal medicine and Stratico’s nephrologist, emphasized that  patients like Stratico must be committed to their medication schedule, or run the risk of rejecting the organ.

Through Stratico’s recollections, students were able to take a closer look at how organ transplants affect patients emotionally and physically. “This event really embodies our mission,” said second-year student and Narrative Medicine leader Farah Dosani. “Hearing the story of a patient, first hand and giving that human touch to a medical procedure it definitely fit into what we try to do here.”

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