The hospital’s newest psychiatrist is a St. Jude survivor.
The newest psychiatrist at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital dispenses a double-dose of empathy when his patients discuss their treatment challenges. But few of those patients know the true source of his insights.
The children and teens regard Andrew Elliott, MD, as an astute and compassionate physician. But he is much more than that. Elliott is a cancer survivor: a former St. Jude patient who now helps the next generation cope with their treatment experiences.
Elliott was only 14 when joint and knee pain, compounded by malaise, prompted a doctor’s visit. “Am I going to lose my hair?” he mused, upon hearing the diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. More than two years of chemotherapy followed, peppered with bouts of steroid-induced irritability and one excruciating encounter with pancreatitis. But there were also bright points: a close relationship with his St. Jude medical team; a recognition of his family’s unswerving support; and the germination of career aspirations.
Although Elliott understands his patients’ struggles, he doesn’t want them to assume he has all the answers—or even most of them.
“My experience here taught me how to deal with huge stresses and think about how other people are dealing with theirs,” he says. “But I don’t usually share the details of what I’ve gone through, because my experience may not equate to theirs.”
Elliott is part of a team dedicated to helping children achieve the best possible quality of life.
“Andrew can help patients who require medical treatment for symptoms of depression or anxiety,” explains Sean Phipps, PhD, chair of St. Jude Psychology. “Our patients also receive a lot of medications that can cause reactions such as delirium. We collaborate to prevent or treat delirium early.”
Elliott emphasizes that the children at St. Jude are normal kids faced with an abnormal situation. His job is to assist them as they navigate this unfamiliar terrain.
“When kids are at their most challenged, we can often help them work through it in a positive way, with medicines or therapy or a combination of the two,” he says. “Then we can have a big impact—shaping their experience and giving it some meaning and purpose. Anything we can do to lessen their pain or their struggle is what we want to do.”
From Promise, Autumn 2016