Fletcher Allen, a Vermont university hospital and medical center, serves all of
Vermont and the northern New York region. Located in Burlington, Fletcher Allen is a regional, academic healthcare center and teaching hospital in alliance with the University of Vermont.
Jamila Headley, Neurological Disorder
The sea sparkled and churned as Jamila Headley slowly rose to a standing position on her surfboard.
This was supposed to have been a pause in Jamila's remarkable young
life - a February vacation with family in Barbados before graduating from Saint Michael's College in May.
Four years of hard work, faith, and a strong belief in helping others had culminated in a 4.0 grade point average and a Rhodes Scholarship, to begin the following year.
So life, with all its possibilities, lay before Jamila as she began coasting towards the shore. And in a moment, everything changed.
At first it felt like a cramp in both thighs. She hopped off her board into the water, trying to massage the pain away. She struggled to drag her board out of the water. A few tourists helped carry her up the beach steps.
She called her mother for a ride to a nearby hospital. But staff there recommended that Jamila and her mother take an ambulance to the larger Queen Elizabeth Hospital. There, Jamila's neurologist, David Corbin, M.D., diagnosed transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord.
Dr. Corbin put Jamila on a steroid regimen, but after a few days, it appeared that the treatment was not working. He recommended that Jamila come to Vermont, where she had the benefit of a close support network and treatment at an academic medical center.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Melinda Estes, M.D., (now former) president and CEO, was in discussions with Saint Michael's College President Marc vanderHeyden, and Marilyn Cormier, director of Government and Community Relations.
In the end, Dr. Estes made it possible for Jamila and her mother to fly to Vermont in an air ambulance.
Here at Fletcher Allen, Neurologists Hillel Panitch, M.D. (now deceased), Angela Applebee, M.D., and Robert Shapiro, M.D., Ph.D., took over Jamila's care.
While transverse myelitis is rare, it is a neuroimmunological disorder
closely related to Multiple Sclerosis; and Fletcher Allen has a high level of clinical and scientific expertise in Multiple Sclerosis and related conditions.
Dr. Panitch had specialized training in neuroimmunology, and had been involved in MS treatment and scientific research for over 25 years.
Almost immediately after arriving at Fletcher Allen, Jamila began plasmapheresis, a procedure that has been effective in treating some autoimmune disorders.
At this point, Jamila began feeling depressed. "It was so familiar back in Barbados, where my friends and family were praying for a miracle. I realized that I had put my life in the hands of science, and I suddenly thought: what if it doesn't work?"
But in the end, said Jamila, the science confirmed her faith.
One night, as Jamila chatted with friends from Saint Michael's, she realized that she could move her left leg - just a little.
From then on, every mundane achievement - sitting up, standing up
with assistance, walking down the hospital hallways in a leg brace - was asmall miracle.
Jamila began to believe that she would walk up on the stage to receive her Saint Michael's diploma.
In Inpatient Rehab, Jamila was challenged "every step of the way" by
Physical Therapists Karen Stoneman and Lisa Goodwin; Occupational Therapists Heather Cromie and Kathy Mosman; and Scott Benjamin, M.D.
On May 18th, Dr. Applebee, Kare Stoneman, Kathy Mosman, and several other Fletcher Allen providers watched as Jamila walked onstage with crutches to receive her diploma. When she reached President vanderHeyden, she embraced him - and the crowd rose to their feet in a standing ovation.
"It was a very meaningful moment," said President vanderHeyden. "It is one thing to be a member of the community - and it's quite another to stand up for your community.
That's what Dr. Estes and Fletcher Allen have done, and we are so grateful for their efforts."
"Part of being in a community means that people know when to turn to you for help," said Dr. Estes. "I knew that we could bring to Jamila's care the tremendous resources of this organization - our academic expertise, our 24/7 ability to care for the most critically ill patients, and the continuity of that care when multiple disciplines are involved."
Today, Jamila is living in England, attending Oxford University as part ofher Rhodes Scholarship. She walks with a cane, and continues to improve.
"As difficult as this experience has been," she said, "I wouldn't change anything. I feel blessed to have known every single one of the people I met on this journey, and I believe my life is richer for the experience."