Over the four decades I’ve had scleroderma, I have occasionally participated in research. One of the first studies I signed up for was in the mid-’90s, a trial of medications for Raynaud’s at Boston Medical Center. It was a randomized double-blind study that involved taking a daily pill, recording my experience with Raynaud’s in a journal, and coming to BMC every so often for a check-up with the lead investigator, the late Dr. Joseph Korn. Dr. Korn was responsible for BMC becoming a research center for scleroderma, and his successor, Dr. Robert Simms, became my rheumatologist until his retirement a few years ago.
Which is to say that, even though I’m pretty sure I got the placebo in the Raynaud’s study (no improvement), the long-term benefit was that I ended up being treated by one of the top scleroderma rheumatologists in the U.S. as a result of my participation. I also realized, after driving into Boston on a semi-regular basis, that I could expand my options for work to include that city. Indeed, within about a year, I landed a job as marketing director at a small college in a Boston suburb, a position I held for a dozen years.
Even before the Raynaud’s study, I contributed tissue samples from my placenta after my younger daughter was born to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. My hands have been photographed and written up in medical journals. For several years, I participated in Grand Rounds at BMC, to help educate young medical students about scleroderma. And I’ve served in a focus group to test intake forms for patients with scleroderma.
I’ve also given blood work for various studies over the years, though I draw the line when it comes to tissue samples from my hands. Given my history with ulcers and long healing times, I don’t want to aggravate my hands more than necessary, even for science.
Most recently, last week I received a call from the cardiology fellow who helped administer my right heart catheter stress test for pulmonary hypertension, to ask if I’d be interested in participating in a study of a non-invasive version of that test. The investigators want to know if a stress test that takes measurements using an MRI would be as accurate as the invasive version that I did. I said I’d be willing to do it, but in a few months. I just need a break from all the measuring. But I do want to help, especially if it means sparing others from the heart cath version, which, as I’ve written here, is no fun.
The other study I’m participating in currently is about cognition (related to aging, as opposed to scleroderma). This one involves playing a video game on an iPad at least once a month for a year. You have to do a variety of tasks that require you to navigate an obstacle course while capturing certain shapes. Conceptually, it’s straightforward, and I do okay. No decline, at least, in my scores. But the problem with the game itself is that it requires manual dexterity that I do not have. So it’s not really measuring my cognition as much as my ability to manipulate my fingers. I’ve mentioned this to the researchers, and they’re aware of the issue. But I’ll continue, anyway.
I write this not to pat myself on the back, but to encourage all of you who are able to take the time, to consider participating in scleroderma research. We’re a relatively small cohort, and whatever information researchers can glean from our experiences will help move us closer to a cure. It’s often easy, and the personal benefits—as I found with the Raynaud’s study— can be significant. If you are not being seen at a research center, as I am, you can find more about studies looking for participants on the Scleroderma Research Foundation website.
Image: Bonnie Kittle