Putting Out the Fire – Celebrating A Lupus “Firefighter” During Black History Month
Putting Out the Fire – Celebrating A Lupus “Firefighter” During Black History Month

February 4, 2021

“Imagine that your house is on fire and someone inside started it – that’s lupus,” says Dr. Giya Harry. “Steroids are the fire hoses we’re using to put the fire out fast!  Other medications are the tools to rebuild the house and protect it from catching fire again.”

Using concrete comparisons like this one is how Dr. Giya Harry makes lupus understandable and relatable to her pediatric patients with lupus. We are taking Black History Month as an opportunity to celebrate Dr. Harry for her ingenuity and deep compassion as an incredibly accomplished physician treating lupus. Dr. Harry is Assistant Professor in Pediatrics-Rheumatology at Wake Forest Baptist Health, Brenner Children’s Hospital.

Experiencing the healthcare system in her own life as a black woman, Dr. Harry saw the need to learn to take care of yourself. She realized that strong self-management skills are needed  for successful treatment, and education is the key to self-management. To help empower her patients, she completed a National Institutes of Health-funded fellowship in self-management and treatment adherence.

During her medical training, Dr. Harry felt how especially tough having a disease like lupus is on kids – young children who don’t understand what was happening to them, and teens who are simultaneously going through a difficult time in anyone’s lives where appearance and being like everyone else is paramount.  With a shortage of Black rheumatologists in the field, she chose to specialize in pediatric rheumatology. “Once I saw the problem, I had to be part of its solution.”

Now in her work with younger children and adolescents, Dr. Harry overcomes common barriers to their treatment by normalizing the experience and providing information how they like to receive it. She has tested out different ways of communicating including automated text message and electronic pill. For instance, with younger adolescents, she creates flash cards with the name of their medication and what it does.  To guide teens toward transitioning to adulthood, she puts them in the driver’s seat, comparing their treatment to taking a lesson in Driver’s Ed. “If you’re following directions, looking at road signs, carefully driving, you can keep hold of the wheel. But if you’re swerving and about to drive over a cliff, I’m going to put on the brakes and steer you back on the road.”

Dr. Harry worked with the Lupus Research Alliance along with the Lupus Foundation of America and Lupus and Other Allied Diseases to help analyze data and develop the Lupus: Patient Voices, a comprehensive report based on input from an Externally-led Lupus Patient-Focused Drug Development (PFDD) Meeting and pre-meeting survey. The report was shared directly with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to help guide their review of potential new drugs for lupus. Dr. Harry did an additional analysis of the data to find the factors –  including race and gender – that predict if a patient might join a clinical trial. The results of this analysis are now pending publication in a journal for rheumatologists and may serve as a basis for a prediction model that identifies patients to be asked to join a clinical study.

Dr. Harry has her own message to convey during Black History Month: “Especially in working with people of color, we as providers must fight against our biases – implicit or otherwise. We should learn about our patients and their individual situations. Armed with this knowledge, we can then tailor our treatments to fit each patient’s needs.”

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