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After her uncle was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, Bhooma Aravamuthan was inspired to do neuroscience research that would be directly relevant to people like her uncle, and as quickly as possible. When she entered medical school at Washington University in St. Louis, Bhooma was convinced she wanted to specialize in adult movement disorders. But during her clinical encounters, she realized she truly loved working with children with cerebral palsy (CP) and their families. So, Bhooma decided to shift focus, staying at Wash U for her pediatrics residency and then went on to complete child neurology and movement disorders fellowships at Boston Children’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital before returning to Wash U as faculty in 2018.
Seeing the critical need for research in dystonia relating to neonatal brain injury, she began her mouse-based research laboratory, working relentlessly to crack the code of finding better treatments for dystonia to improve the quality of life for children impacted by this type of movement disorder, when traditional medicine had failed. On top of the meaningful research that she conducts, Bhooma also sees pediatric patients in an outpatient cerebral palsy center, with the majority of them having dystonia.
Helping families navigate the uncertainty with prognosis is one of the more complex parts of communicating with families. When families come to her after having already been through the NICU process, some of them have experienced physicians who made very concrete and almost certain predictions about their child’s prognosis or they have been told very little about their child’s prognosis at all. Sometimes, this leads to unintentional mistrust, which Bhooma is eager to help rebuild in her clinical practice. In addition, diagnosing cerebral palsy has traditionally happened too late, so Bhooma is a strong advocate for decreasing the diagnostic journey for these families, and getting them connected to the support, therapies, and treatment plan that will work best for their child’s development as quickly as possible.
Recognizing the trauma families have been through, she always tries to offer any comfort and hope she can to families who have not yet found it in their journeys. Sometimes that means providing families with a demystifying and confirming CP diagnosis. Other times, it means letting families know that, even if their children go on to have disabilities, they can still have a good quality of life. It means letting parents know that, while this might not be the path they envisioned for their child, this is not a path they will need to navigate alone—there are so many support networks they can participate in, such as connecting to other parents via Hope for HIE.
When Bhooma thinks of hope, she thinks about the future of research in this field. There are so many incredibly passionate and kindhearted people, committed to advancing care for children with HIE. She is proud that, since the start of her career, neurologists are beginning to reclaim cerebral palsy as something they should be more responsible for. Since dystonia is a notoriously underdiagnosed movement disorder, Bhooma hopes that she can continue to help practitioners diagnose it in a more systematic way, spread awareness about the symptoms associated with it to families, and, one day, find a cure for it.
But more than anything, Bhooma thinks of hope in terms of the families she treats. For Bhooma, true hope looks like empowering a young, overwhelmed mom, whose baby has just been discharged from the NICU to find ways to help her child live a fulfilling life. It’s a really powerful feeling to be able to give families back some of the agency that was taken away from them when their children were in the NICU. As caregivers, there are still so many ways to empower parents in this unexpected journey.
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