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Gerome’s NMO Story – Whatever It Takes

Posted by: The Sumaira Foundation in NMO, Patient, Professional, Voices of NMO

Three years ago, right in the middle of my medical internship, I was diagnosed with Seronegative NMOSD. I took a leave of absence, not knowing if I could go back and become a doctor. During those days, I couldn’t help but stare at my white coat, wishing it was all just a nightmare. Three weeks into my leave, I told myself I couldn’t just stand here and let my disease take my dreams away. So, I went back and took a risk to finish my internship. It was in those moments that I knew that I was the only one who could define the limits of my career. I am my own barometer.

I thought the waves were starting to calm, but one year after my diagnosis, I was faced with another obstacle. And that is losing my mother from COVID just one month before my medical licensure exam. I was devastated, to say the least.

I stayed strong because that’s what my mother taught me. Don’t ever stay soaked in the rain. Keep going.

Soon after I became licensed, I thought it would be easy for me to get jobs, but no. I tried applying to some schools and other clinics, but my disability always managed to get in my way. Apparently, most of them thought that being disabled meant being unable to deliver healthcare. It was very disappointing and discriminating at the same time, so I took a step back and did not apply anymore. I contemplated how I could use my degree. That’s when I learned about this clinical research certificate program at Harvard Medical School. It took me back to my reasons why I went into science because I was a researcher first, even before I became a doctor.

So, I applied to the program and luckily got accepted. In the same month, I also volunteered under the office of the vice president of the Philippines and became a teleconsult doctor. In this way, patients will not see my disability, and I’ll be able to practice medicine without prejudice from my patients.

You would probably think that everything is already working out because I’m at Harvard and practicing as a medical doctor. But no, one month into my program, I went into relapse and had another attack. I was numb, tired, and ready to give up. But then my mom has her way of making me feel that I can do it, that everything will pass, and everything will be okay. So, just like any other obstacle, I managed to dodge in between those waves.

So many things have happened in the past three years, but my grit, perseverance, and dedication will always be something I’m proud of. Although, I don’t usually get things on the first try, from my undergraduate to medical school, even during my internship. Being someone who’s always just reconsidered, I developed that “whatever it takes’ ‘attitude.

Three years after that roadblock, I am now at Harvard doing my master’s in clinical research on the very disease that caused my disability and hopefully working towards the cure of such a rare disease.

I hope this will be a reminder to everyone and to the people suffering from this incurable disease that there is always hope and that it never rains forever.

I still don’t know why and how I managed to tide myself over the biggest waves of my life. But one thing is for sure. It is grit, faith, and determination that kept me going. So, when the time comes when doubt and fear creep in, I will always be reminded of this experience and of how I destroyed the odds, broke the barriers, and did everything in my power to do whatever it takes.


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