The Genetics of Life

There is such a strong connection between the health of our planet, the health of our communities and the health of each person. Some day medicine will include nourishing food, clean water, and access to nature and its ability to renew us. Some day medicine will take the elegance of all that we have learned from Nature and Genetics and apply it in a personalized way to improve the health of individuals and families.

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My mother and my grandmother were nurses. I am one of the lucky people in life who knew what my life calling was very early in life. I have always worked as a nurse. Nursing focuses on holistic care of people and this approach to health care has always appealed to me. Currently I am a Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner at SGCMH and a large part of my day is focused on preventive health care. My patients and I work together to create a plan to keep them healthy and balanced. Understanding the unique situation of each person I get to work with has been a privilege and my good fortune. Through my long career my patients have inspired me through their life experiences, their humor, kindness, and resilience and have been my true teachers.

I live with my husband Bob, my dogs Arrow and Mila, and Maggie the donkey on 75 acres on the St. Francois River. Bob and I have been married for 35 years and feel so fortunate to have been able to have been nurtured and informed by this beautiful land we live on. Nature and wide open, quiet spaces have always been important to me and my family. Bob and I are amazed at how quickly these years have gone by and how much we still have to discover about each other and the world around us. We have three grown children; Christopher is a Classical Guitarist and Construction Worker in Vermont, Caroline is a Linguistic Anthropologist in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Matthew is a Clinical Nurse Leader in New York City. Bob worked as a solo metal artisan for 30 years at his shop, St. Francois Forge, on our property and it gave us a lot of freedom as we raised our family. Bob is now working as a Board Certified Chaplain in the Emergency Department and Inpatient Psych Unit at St. Louis University Hospital. As our children grew up and moved away Bob and I were able to explore new interests. Bob got a small wooden sailboat and I got a bike!

I believe in the physical and mental health benefits of exercise. Thirty minutes a day of walking will reduce the risk of heart disease by 50%, reduce depression, improve bone health and maintain strength and agility as we age. I have always found running to be a fairly efficient and enjoyable way to be outside and have time alone to renew myself. Getting a bike and exploring bicycling has opened up new adventures and a new sense of freedom for me. I feel so fortunate to have access to so many picturesque biking routes in the communities where I live and work. St. Joe State Park Bike trail and Kaskaskia Island are so close. Riding my bike around Kaskaskia Island and seeing the beautiful vistas, changing crops and migrating birds through the seasons fills me with wonder. My biking partner, Diane, challenged me to think on a grander scale. Our back road training gave us not only a new appreciation for the unique beauty of the place where we live but confidence. These last 2 summers we have taken the Amtrak train to Whitefish Montana, rented mountain bikes and biked a section of the Continental Divide Mountain Bike trail into the northern part of Glacier National Park. Our days were filled with challenges, grandeur, laughter and amazing encounters.

By sheer serendipity I became employed at Ste. Genevieve County Memorial Hospital at the same time as Dr. Teresa Cavins. As Dr. Cavins created the Métis Breast Center she encouraged me to expand my knowledge of Hereditary Genetics. What an opportunity. SGCMH supported a Hereditary Genetics Program from the start and through the generous help of the Friends Foundation sent me in 2012 to a Genetics Course at the City of Hope in California directed by Dr. Jeffrey Weitzel. Dr. Jeffrey Weitzel is at the forefront of the Genetics world and believes all people should have access to this new form of personalized medicine. There is an elegance, order and new and changing information in Genetics that I love and in 2014 I became board certified as an Advanced Practice Nurse in Genetics. We all have genes that have the job of suppressing tumors in our bodies and harmful mutations in these genes can increase the risk of developing certain syndromes.

The practice of Hereditary Genetics identifies individuals and families that are at high risk of developing ovarian and breast syndromes, colon and other syndromes. Advanced Practice Nurses in Genetics promote early detection of these syndromes through appropriate screening; explain complex genetic information, coordinate genetic testing and guide patients through the decision making process. Many people are afraid to explore if they could benefit from Genetic testing because they think it is too expensive. Risk Assessment, where I take a detailed family history and draw a simple picture (called a pedigree) of this information is considered a preventive health care visit and is often covered by insurance with no co pay. Based on this information I decide if it is appropriate to draw a blood test and submit it for genetic testing. We have a guarantee that the blood test will not be run until the patient knows if there is any cost at all to them.

We have submitted over 130 genetic tests this year and most of our patients have had NO cost at all. Patients who had to pay for their genetic testing had an average cost of $90. Initially we tested for mutations in 2 genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2. We now have a panel test that is able to look for harmful mutations in 28 genes. When a harmful mutation is identified I work with patients to identify a plan of care to create strategies to prevent the hereditary syndrome. SGCMH is a small jewel in the increasingly large and bureaucratic world of medicine. SGCMH is committed to providing personalized, innovative and leading edge health care. Risk Assessment and Genetic Testing is one piece of this whole approach to health care.

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