In honor of American Diabetes Month, we introduce you to Riley Hospital pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Emily Walvoord.
She is just one of the many health care professionals at Riley who help kids and families feel so much comfort and confidence when they come to Riley for diabetes care.
Q: Dr. Walvoord, where did you grow up, and when did you first become interested in medicine?
A: I grew up in Peoria, Illinois. I first thought that I wanted to be a veterinarian. However, I worked at a vet’s office during college and the vets there convinced me to go into medicine, since I would have so much more room to grow and opportunities to be involved in new and exciting research and treatments.
Additionally, I had planned to be a large animal vet and after going on some farm visits, I knew that was not for me. (Good stories that would not be print appropriate!) So, I shadowed some doctors and volunteered on a children’s cancer unit for a year and realized that medicine and probably pediatrics was for me.
Q: What drew you to endocrinology?
A: I love the way that you have to think about endocrine problems to figure them out. The intricate feedback loops in particular. I also like to be able to treat the problems that I diagnose, and offer therapies that work. This is different than issues such as chronic abdominal pain, which I think would be very frustrating if you could not help the child.
I also like taking care of kids for years and really getting to know them and their families since nearly all endocrine problems require long-term treatment. I also enjoy the “art” of diabetes care- trying to understand how to help each individual child and family. Most kids and families work really hard and can really use some positive feedback so that they can keep working at it day after day, and not get too frustrated.
Q: What do you wish more people knew about diabetes?
A: That people with diabetes never get a break from it. So many things go into the control of diabetes, every morsel of food, amount of activity, emotions, sleep, all sorts of hormone levels, insulin doses etc. that every day is a challenge to stay healthy.
Q: Why is it important for donors to support diabetes care and research at Riley?
A: Our group is involved in some amazing research right now from the very basic science level to cutting edge clinical trials, and Riley’s research has been nationally recognized as making very significant contributions to finding the cure.
We take care of over 1,400 children with diabetes from all over the state. The incidence of type 1 diabetes is rising worldwide at a rate of around 3% per year. This is staggering.
At the same time, research is moving very fast and I truly believe that there will be a “cure” for type 1 diabetes in my lifetime. We don’t know what that will look like, but we do know how to best help keep kids healthy while we wait for a cure. It is expensive, but research is a critical mission of our section and I hope will continue to be a critical mission of our department.
Q: How do your own children inspire and influence your career in pediatric medicine?
A: I have 2 children, 11 and 13. They help me to better understand how hard it is to be a parent, let alone be a parent of a child with a chronic illness. Since I can imagine how devastating it must be to be told that your child has diabetes and how anxiety provoking it must be to worry about their long-term health, I think that I am more empathetic to families.
On the other hand, my kids helped me to realize that kids want and need to be part of every discussion about their health so I always address the patient first and the parent second, no matter the age. Kids pay attention more than we realize and are capable of amazing things.
It is tough to be a working parent and this is true of men as well as women. It is a constant struggle to find the right balance and to be present and in the moment with your family and with your patients when you have a hundred things on your mind. I keep working at it!