AAD: Caring for an Autoimmune Patient During a Pandemic

May 5, 2020

Woman having skin conditions treated during online teledermatology appointment

Telemedicine allows a dermatologist to provide care during the coronavirus pandemic to a melanoma survivor with a rare autoimmune condition.

Jennifer Bowers’ story

I’m fair-skinned with freckles and red hair. I grew up in the 1970s when sunscreen was not yet widely used, and I was sunburned countless times as a kid.

Just six months after my regular skin check with dermatologist Dr. Janet Lin [a board-certified dermatologist at U.S. Dermatology Partners] where everything looked normal, my husband noticed a spot at the top of my back. Dr. Lin’s follow-up biopsy revealed melanoma, and given the size and depth of the lesion, she referred me to a melanoma specialty clinic.

Dr. Lin was on the phone with the specialty clinic the same day I went in for the visit to ensure my care experience was seamless. The coordination between her and the specialty clinic was incredible. I’m an oncology nurse, so I know that level of coordination is not always guaranteed.

My team at the clinic included an oncologist, dermatologist, and surgeon who all specialize in melanoma, as well as a plastic surgeon, who was luckily able to close the large excision without a skin graft. After two lymph nodes tested positive for cancer cells, I began a year of immunotherapy infusions.

Shortly after I finished the immunotherapy, I developed severe sores in my mouth, followed by a rash. I was diagnosed with erythema multiforme major, an autoimmune condition likely caused by the immunotherapy treatment.

I began self-isolating in January 2020 because of my compromised immune system, before COVID-19 was a widespread concern in the United States. My check-ins with Dr. Lin are now virtual as she tapers me off the steroids I take to control the autoimmune condition, which she and I hope will eventually subside. I am incredibly grateful that Dr. Lin quickly transitioned my care to telemedicine. Given my compromised immune system, if Dr. Lin weren’t able to provide effective care remotely, I don’t know how I would safely get the treatment I need during the coronavirus pandemic, which looks likely to last months if not longer. But as a nurse, I’m also frustrated that I can’t help during this crisis. I see my friends, colleagues, and family putting their lives on the line every day to fight COVID-19. It breaks my heart that I can’t do the work I trained for by helping others in their time of need.

Source: American Academy of Dermatology Association – Caring for an Autoimmune Patient During a Pandemic

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