This story originally appeared in UConn Health Journal.
In the short time since he arrived at UConn Health in summer 2019 to lead the multiple sclerosis (MS) and neuroimmunology program, Dr. Jaime Imitola has begun transforming the way that MS care is delivered.
Over the last decade, MS diagnoses have been occurring earlier than ever, with most patients learning they have the disease in their 20s and 30s, and some in their teens, says Imitola, who created and led the Progressive MS clinic at Ohio State University prior to joining UConn Health.
“No one is prepared to be diagnosed with anything,” he says. “But it’s especially heartbreaking when you have to deliver the news to someone who is 17 years old and in the prime of their life, or 20 to 30 when they are thinking about a job or a family of their own.
“Often, they get angry,” Imitola says. “And we want to help them in any way we can to restore the balance that is lost when you get the devastating news that you have a disease that will be with you for the rest of your life.”
But with earlier diagnosis comes the opportunity for earlier intervention. And earlier intervention can lead to the delaying of the onset or worsening of symptoms and progression. “My job is to make sure the potential for a life remains,” Imitola says.
After seeing his first MS patient in medical school, Imitola dedicated himself to studying the autoimmune disease and has been internationally recognized for his work to understand the role and impact of inflammation on stem cells in MS and his search for a cure with neural stem cells.
While his expertise is unparalleled, it’s his team’s compassion and desire to help patients understand the disease and treatments that is making UConn Health’s Multiple Sclerosis Center the premier point of care in the region.
Since joining UConn Health, Imitola’s early efforts to strengthen the program have included launching a partnership with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, a roundtable to discuss pressing issues for patients in the area, and a symposium to educate providers in the region about current MS diagnosis and care standards. UConn Health’s MS patients can take advantage of an on-site infusion center; a new support group; “life therapy,” a novel concept in rehabilitation medicine; and a comprehensive, multidisciplinary team.
“Our patients are strong and resilient. They overcome challenges daily,” Imitola says. “And, with us, they have a dedicated and invested team behind them to support them every step of the way.”