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Emory Special Diagnostic Services concentrates on hard-to-diagnose cases

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Janet Christenbury

Drew Crenshaw was just 18-years old when he started having severe ankle pain. An X-ray showed the college freshman had minor stress fractures in both feet. Casts were placed on his feet and Crenshaw was wheelchair bound for six months. He withdrew from college in Florida and retreated to his home. But the pain continued even after the casts were removed, and then he developed pain in all of his joints.

"Some days, the pain was so bad I could not even get out of bed," says Crenshaw. "My shoulders, knees, elbows, fingers and ankles were all affected. Everything hurt."

After multiple visits to doctors and health care facilities in several states, Crenshaw ended up at Emory's Special Diagnostic Services (ESDS). The practice, which is a part of the Emory Clinic's Paul W. Seavey Comprehensive Internal Medicine Clinic, is dedicated to evaluating patients with undiagnosed symptoms and/or illnesses. Its multidisciplinary team strives to improve each patient's health by thoroughly reviewing his or her medical history while enlisting the expertise of many Emory specialists. 

After spending five days in Emory University Hospital, hospitalists and consultant physicians associated with Emory's Special Diagnostic Services determined Crenshaw had a severe case of gout, a condition often characterized by recurrent attacks of severe inflammatory arthritis.

"With a diagnosis confirmed, the team ordered specific medications for Drew while getting all of his biochemical levels back in balance," says Debra Cohen, RN, nurse navigator at Emory Special Diagnostic Services. "Our specialists really worked together to help this young man, who had been suffering with extreme pain and discomfort for months."

Led by medical director Clyde Partin, MD, ESDS takes the time to review and form a complete picture of the patient's condition. Working with experts within every specialty area at Emory, the ESDS physicians spearhead teams to evaluate and diagnose each patient's illness. While a definitive diagnosis is not always possible, the team will devote as much effort as is necessary in an attempt to determine the source of the problem.

"Our mission is to bring our best resources together to illuminate the patient's problem and where possible, provide a diagnosis to empower patients to manage their disease," says Partin, associate professor of medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. "We believe this service will benefit many people who have been in trying to identify an unknown illness."

Besides Partin, other members of the ESDS team include: David Roberts, MD, the Charles F. Evans Professor of Medicine; Jonathan Masor, MD, associate professor of medicine; Thomas Jarrett, MD, assistant professor of medicine; Sharon Bergquist, MD, assistant professor of medicine and Debra Cohen, ESDS nurse navigator.

Almost six years from the time Crenshaw's pain began, he is back in college, pain-free and thriving. He returns to Emory Healthcare periodically for check-ups.

"I'm not sure where I would be today without the outstanding care from the Emory Special Diagnostic Services," says Crenshaw. "They truly saved my life."

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