Interview with a Pediatric Rheumatologist

A while back (okay, a year), I sat down and had a phone conversation with Dr. Alexei Grom at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. For those of you who don’t know the name, Dr. Grom is one of the experts on Still’s and MAS in children. He also focuses on Juvenile Dermatomyositis. He was super nice, and we discussed a lot more than I’m putting here, but a good amount of it was related to my current level of care and medications, so I won’t necessarily put that info here.

One of the first questions I asked was about how Dr. Grom got into pediatric rheumatology, and why he focuses on these diseases. During his fellowship training, he worked with a pediatric rheumatologist. He found the field intellectually stimulating. Then, a SJIA patient died due to MAS. He knew he wanted to help focus on why MAS occurs in SJIA so often, and wanted to work with JDM children as well. He’s definitely not in it for the money!

In 2006, the rheumatology world reached a turning point as far as these diseases are concerned. New papers were released on SJIA, which brought about a new treatment algorithm. Kineret came out. Now, we have ideas and more treatments centered around interleukin inhibitors.

We discussed the question of whether remission or just getting the disease under a bit of control should be the goal, and remission is definitely what we all want. Dr. Grom believes that pediatricians need to learn more about these diseases and really think about them. Six to nine months post-onset is the golden window to starting aggressive treatment with the best chances of remission, yet we have children waiting over a year to get a diagnosis at all. It has to change.

I brought up methotrexate, which I had just failed for the second time (first go was pill form, second was injection). He doesn’t favor mtx for SJIA. There is some response, but poor control for us specifically. And 10-15% of JIA kids don’t respond to the medication.

I wanted to know how physicians tend to get information on pain from children, because I didn’t go through that due to my issues surrounding access to care. The biggest issue docs face (and parents too sometimes) is that it’s hard to gauge what normal is in children, especially in younger kids. He encourages parents to use pictures to illustrate the differences in how their child is doing.

Many parents and families that I know have wanted to know what doctors wish they did differently when it comes to appointments and disease management. He wants his patients and their families to understand the courses the disease can take – complications, morbidity, etc. He also wants us to be well versed in side effects on our treatments as well as treatment options. Compliance with medications is always preferred, but if that can’t happen, note why. Is it a side effect? Does the medication wipe your kid out for a week, so you change up shot days when there are big events coming up? We should have folders or binders of this kind of information. Kids should also be learning about their disease and all this as they grow with age appropriate information.

Finally we touched on a more recent theory – that SJIA/Still’s shouldn’t be lumped in with the other JIA types. Studies out there are hinting that SJIA/Still’s are both more related to the periodic fever group of diseases, which makes sense with the fevers we get!

It was a great discussion, and he really helped me get a hold on what is going on today from the provider standpoint with SJIA. He also helped push me to seek out some different medications and, if that doesn’t work, different care… which I may be doing soon.

Thank you Dr. Grom for talking with me and for all you do for SJIA kids!

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