Kelly Ripken, wife of Baltimore Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr., has established a program at Hopkins that will provide education and patient care for people with Graves' disease and other thyroid disorders.
She will serve as co-director of the program she's establishing through a $250,000 donation from The Kelly & Cal Ripken Jr. Foundation so that other patients with thyroid disorders won't suffer as she did.
Ripken has been treated for thyroid disease by Paul Ladenson, director of endocrinology and metabolism, who will be the program's co-director.
The Kelly G. Ripken Program offers patients and their families assistance in understanding thyroid conditions.
Ripken's concern for thyroid education dates back to 1984, when she and Cal were talking about marriage; she should have been excited, but she couldn't shake a nagging headache, sleep or control her ravenous appetite.
As her symptoms continued, she was tested for brain tumors, Hodgkin's disease and lupus. She received cortisone shots in her neck for a supposed cervical injury. She even had her wisdom teeth extracted.
Two years, a dozen physicians and two dozen medications later, she was correctly diagnosed with Graves' disease, a condition characterized by an overactive thyroid gland that causes the body's metabolism to speed up. The diagnosis was made with a simple blood test.
"I promised myself that when I found out what was wrong, I was never going to feel that way again if I could help it," Ripken says today. "The most important part of thyroid disorders is education. The more you know about these disorders, the better you're going to be.
To ensure that other patients have that education, Ripken established the Hopkins program. A team of staff members coordinated by Marge Ewertz is available to answer patients' questions, provide information, coordinate multiple medical appointments, or help those who live outside the area find a doctor close to home. The program also will have a data base of patients with thyroid disease who are willing to share their experiences.
"When I was diagnosed with Graves' disease, I had a lot of concerns and few resources to find the answers," Ripken says. "By establishing this service, I hope to alleviate similar frustrations that other patients may be feeling."
Graves' disease is caused by an abnormal thyroid-stimulating antibody that causes the thyroid gland to produce large amounts of hormones in an uncontrolled manner. It is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, a condition characterized by weight loss, nervousness, irritability and muscle weakness. It can be treated by medications, radioactive iodine or surgery.
Ladenson says that stories like Ripken's are not unusual because the symptoms are so common.
"The hardest part of diagnosing these disorders is simply thinking of this possibility," he says. "Once the condition is considered, accurate and widely available blood tests can confirm or rule out the diagnosis quite easily."
There are very effective medications to control thyroid disorders, Ladenson says; still, "there are other dimensions of thyroid disease beyond how the drugs are working. It concerns the anxiety you feel while getting over this. Kelly's gift will allow us to increase our emphasis on our patients' comfort, both in terms of medical care and in their understanding of their condition."
The Kelly G. Ripken Program also will offer a free TSH blood test, which can identify people with an underactive or overactive thyroid gland. In addition, patient libraries will be established on the East Baltimore campus and at Green Spring Station.
For additional information or to make an appointment for TSH screening, call 410-614-1174. Information is also available at thyroid-ripken.med.jhu.edu.