This photo was taken when I could finally give my baby a bath again. I hadn’t been able to kneel down to do it. It’s amazing what we miss when we’re in pain.

Nancy Stefanick, Patient

On March 22nd, I walked into the offices of Bronson Rheumatology Specialists hoping to find some answers to the mysterious illness that had robbed me of a lot of my energy, laughter, and happiness for what felt like forever. For over a year I had suffered and struggled with near crippling joint pain with barely enough energy to make it through the entire day. When I walked into the waiting room, I was greeted by receptionists Kiley Kievit-Haynes and Heather Gorning. What I remember the most about them were their incredible smiles- ear to ear grins. Then they noticed what I was wearing. Within minutes they showered me with compliments with a sort of infectious energy and humor that lifted my spirits in ways they may never understand. I told them I was going to keep walking back out and coming back in just so they’d keep complimenting me. I have to believe that in their line of work, Kiley and Heather see people every day like me who are struggling with illness, pain, and fear. Rheumatology is a practice that deals with parts of the body that so many of us don’t understand. The incredible chemistry inherent in all of us can go so wrong and it can feel like finding a needle in a haystack to pinpoint what is wrong. Their warmth that day was like a hug from a friend. Their warmth made me believe that I was going to be ok.

Stephanie Correnti, Dr. Kocharla’s medical assistant was the next to greet me. She works with precision and gentleness- you know that you’re in capable hands. I met Dr. Kocharla for the first time that day. A highly elevated ANA test landed me a referral to her office. She greeted me with the same warmth and compassion as the rest of the staff. She ordered a myriad of blood tests that I hoped contained the answers to my mystery illness. Before I left, she recommended that while waiting for the blood tests to come back, I might consider eliminating wheat and gluten from my diet, as they can exacerbate auto-immune symptoms. And I did.

Within a few days of eliminating wheat and gluten, this incredible thing started happening- I became me again. I was filled with what felt like a year’s worth of energy. I was literally bouncing off of walls, chasing my children again, and laughing…a lot. Up to that point, I was physically incapable of kneeling to give my children a bath and I couldn’t carry my baby up and down our stairs. Now I was dancing with them in our living room and crawling on the floor playing cars with them. I also cried a lot in those early days. In that year of immense pain, I hadn’t cried much, I hadn’t laughed much either, I felt like I had flat-lined on life somehow; now emotions poured out of me and it was hard to contain them all.

When I returned to Bronson Rheumatology Specialists a couple of weeks later, I already felt like a new person. And when I saw Kiley and Heather, they again, greeted me with an abundance of compliments and laughter. When I went back to meet Dr. Kocharla, she took one look at me and said, “Oh my gosh- you have color in your face again! You look amazing!” I felt amazing and I continue to feel amazing 4 months later. I have this office to thank for it. She confirmed for me that based on my normal labs, the culprit was clearly a severe wheat and gluten intolerance that was likely brought on by pregnancy. I have been gluten-free ever since and every day I wake up with a grateful heart for getting my life back. But aside from the diagnosis, the staff at Bronson Rheumatology Specialists lifted my spirits in ways that go beyond the word “positivity”. Their compassion, love, and commitment to their work and patients could only be described as life-giving. Positivity is making someone’s day better, but they made my life better in those moments I connected with them and I am so grateful. My only sadness is that I feel so much better that I’ll likely not see them as much, so I have to let them know how much they meant to me.

To Kiley, Heather, Stephanie, and Dr. Kocharla- what you do matters is ways you may not always understand. Auto-immune disease is your body fighting itself and in the war I had with myself I needed friends like you to be on the front lines with me, and you were. You are amazing at what you do and I am grateful that your positivity and compassion wrapped me up like a blanket when I needed it most. This photo was taken when I could finally give my baby a bath again. I hadn’t been able to kneel down to do it. It’s amazing what we miss when we’re in pain.

With an eternally thankful heart,

Nancy Stefanick