In the 12 years since Barbara Guiffre moved to Chapel Hill from New York City, she has spent a lot of time talking to fellow Multiple Sclerosis (MS) patients. She organized a long-running support group and has provided informal advice countless times.
“The one thing I tell everyone is that you have to love and trust all the medical people you are working with,” Guiffre said.
She trusts Diane Meyer, PT, unconditionally.
“I’ve told Diane many times that she’s never allowed to retire,” Guiffre said. “I give her complete credit for the fact that I’m still walking.”
Each person with MS has a unique set of symptoms and each person’s disease will progress at a different rate. This can increase the complexity of the care needed to treat patients. Since there is no cure for MS, patients, physicians, and physical therapists often form long-term partnerships.
At UNC Medical Center, MS patients benefit from a wide range of services, tailored to their individual needs. Silva Markovic-Plese, MD, PhD, associate professor of neurology, emphasized that UNC provides all FDA-approved MS treatments.
“Since there is a wide range of treatment options, what we try to do is project how aggressive the disease might be and create a treatment plan from there,” Markovic-Plese said.
Treatment plans, Markovic-Plese said, most often involve close collaboration with multiple departments.
“As a comprehensive MS center, we have multiple patients who travel here to receive their care,” Markovic-Plese said. “We also have a large number of clinical trials ongoing at any given time, so patients can benefit from those as well.”
As patients’ needs change, Angela Lipscomb-Hudson, MD, a rehabilitation physician (physiatrist) within the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, helps to provide personalized care and also recommends the best combination of services.
“In my role, I help our patients coordinate and manage their needs between multiple disciplines, while also helping manage their pain and fatigue, sleep, and other issues,” Lispscomb-Hudson said. “I’m helping to link our experts to our patients.”
This kind of coordination provides a benefit for patients attempting to navigate the health care system. The commitment has earned UNC multiple honors, including recent recognition of the UNC Health Care Center for Rehabilitation Care as a Partner in MS Care Rehabilitation Facility by the National MS Society.
"Becoming a partner in care is a unique opportunity to build on the quality care we already provide here at the CRC," Meyer said when the recognition was received earlier this year.
Though Guiffre says Meyer can’t retire, Meyer knows she won’t be around forever. She is working now to train the next generation of MS care providers through a scholarship program for physical therapy students interested in MS treatment.
Meyer said Guiffre has often spoken to these students. One thing Guiffre says is Meyer’s biggest strength is her perceptiveness.
“Diane has this gift of knowing you are about to get fatigued even before you realize it yourself,” Guiffre said. “We will be working on a strengthening exercise for example and she just knows exactly how far to push you and exactly when to slow things down.”
Lessons like that come with time, coordination, and the bond shared by patient and provider.
“No matter what, Diane always has the solution,” Guiffre said.