Argosy University Blog

Rare Disease Awareness

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She was a beautiful child. She was so good-looking that her cuteness was almost a caricature. Her blonde hair fell straight onto her shoulders, with bangs that were cut to reveal her forehead, accentuating her big blue eyes. Her nose was small and turned up ever so slightly. She was petite, even for a seven-year-old. She looked me straight in the eye nearly continuously and was almost always smiling. Her mood was one of happiness and she was a joy to be around. If a cartoonist had set out to convey his conception of a living doll, this might have been the result. There were a lot of toys available in the room, but her attention was exclusively directed toward me. She seemed to be oblivious to the presence of her mother or the female doctoral student also in the room with us.

The child’s mother reported that her daughter loved music. With very little instruction the girl seemed to just intuitively know how to play the piano, her mother noted with some pride. The child had been a colicky infant, but she developed language remarkably well, and perhaps a little early, and she was now quite verbal. Despite some fine motor problems, the child was quite social in school, although mostly oriented toward the adults.

She continued to ignore the room full of toys and started climbing onto my lap. I have performed a great number of psychological assessments, but this is the only time that this happened. I must have looked startled.

“This is what happens,” her mother said. “She is overly friendly with strangers. She took a strange man’s hand in the mall and asked if she could go with him. Fortunately, I was right there.”

My student and I asked a few diagnostically important questions to evaluate some important hypotheses. There did not appear to be a history of abuse or exploitation, although the child was clearly at great risk. We could identify no other relevant psychological factors to explain the child’s profound impairment of social boundaries. We had no solution to this puzzle.

The mother revealed that she has been distressed by the child’s behavior for several years. The pediatrician thought that the child was mildly uncoordinated, but otherwise physically healthy. This family’s experience in the ambiguous world of rare disease had begun.

I had been involved in the broader issue of rare disease for many years through my association with the communities affected by Gaucher Disease and other lysosomal disorders. However, those experiences did not help me to understand this child. My rare disease experiences did tell me, though, that well-defined, enduring observations that appear to have little relationship with each other, may have a common cause.

Science, I learned many years ago, attempts to describe, explain, predict, modify, and control observed phenomena. And a good theory will explain the observations in the simplest manner. “A good theory is parsimonious,” I can still hear my professor saying. The answers are here, if we can only ask the right questions. And then we must separate the signal from the noise.


The Gaucher Disease experience, to use the example of the most common lysosomal disorder, required scientists to explain how a large spleen may be related to a painful leg, or how a nosebleed may be related to a flask-shaped long bone. All of those observations are united by a single explanatory theory: A diagnosis of Gaucher Disease. And in retrospect, when a diagnosis is confirmed, it is easy to wonder how it had ever been missed.

But the reality is that rare disorders are, well, really rare. The constellation of indicators is present, and evident to multiple observers. But the explanation is not handed to us. In a movie, the sets, costumes, props, dialogue, effects, and even the music are integrated to tell us a story. A scientist has a collection of observations, but no narrator to tell him where to look.

My young patient did not come to the clinic with a book about her life. Could there be a single theory to describe and explain my observations? I could not flip ahead to see how it all turns out. I would be helping to write her life’s story, and I am not ashamed to say that I too was distressed by the ambiguity. Families affected by rare disorders commonly wait almost five years until someone puts the pieces together. And a delay of decades is not uncommon.

Psychologists have some very good science-based methods of assessment, at least with regard to the most common issues affecting children and adolescents. Yet there was no single test or algorithm to put the observations together for us with this child. We still had observations that represented ill-fitted puzzle pieces. What does it mean for a good looking and happy child with a history of colic to have a friendly personality, exceptional musical ability, some impaired coordination, and an extraordinary absence of apprehension around strangers?

I derive a very special type of joy from seeing a student do our work better than me. And my almost-a-psychologist student developed the explanation that we call a theory or, as in this case, a diagnosis. As my student discovered, hidden within the pages of references on behavioral genetics, fewer than 1 in 10,000 people will have a certain deletion on chromosome 7. And such people are sometimes described as elfin, musical, and socially uninhibited.

There is a certain satisfaction, but also some distress in learning that the symptoms fit a known pattern. At a follow-up meeting, the mother cried when we told her that the constellation of her daughter’s characteristics matched Williams Syndrome, one of the rare genetic disorders.

According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders,

People with rare diseases have tremendous unmet needs, including misdiagnosis, a long time to finally receive a correct diagnosis, and when they do, 95% have no treatment with ZERO CURES (http://rarediseaseday.us/).

Research will help us to find the answers. And we have a lot of work yet to do.


Author Bio

Dr. Wayne Rosenfield worked for many years in Connecticut to develop and implement inpatient treatment programs for persons with chronic and debilitating mental disorders. His interest in addressing the most intense problems led him to disaster mental health deployments with the Red Cross following the 2001 terrorist attacks, and then to crisis work in hospital emergency departments. He was again with the Red Cross in Newtown the day after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Engaged with Connecticut’s response to Sandy Hook he was part of a statewide initiative to treat trauma in children. Having relocated to Florida, he is part of a research team examining a novel treatment for combat PTSD, and he performs psychological assessments for a group practice. He is a frequent speaker in the US and internationally on the subject of rare diseases. He is an adjunct instructor at Argosy University Sarasota , who teaches School Psychology in the College of Education . His highly rated book, Great Necessities, is available on Amazon.com.

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Black History Month 2018: Remembering African American Mental Health Professionals & Advocates

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Black history month is upon us. During this time we focus on the accomplishments and inventions of those of the past and present. From the invention of the cotton-gin to the stoplight, these advances along with advocacy and social justice have provided an avenue for all individuals today to prosper. In the field of mental health, there are individuals that should be celebrated for what they have done to further the field.

Dr. Kenneth Bancroft Clark (1914 2005) - First African American president of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Clark, along with his wife, famous for the “Doll Study” experiment which looked at responses of more than 200 Black children preferences in the selection of white or brown dolls. Dr. Clark’s finding concluded that segregation was psychologically damaging which was a determining factor in the Supreme Court case Brown vs. Board of Education.

Dr. Mamie Phipps Clark (1917-1983) – First African American woman to earn a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University. Along with her husband, Dr. Kenneth Clark, her research on race and child development helped in desegregation efforts especially in the Brown vs. Board of Education. Understanding the need of mental health services for the African American community, Dr. Clark and her husband opened “The Northside Center for Child Development” in Harlem, NY in 1946.

These are just two out of the many people who made a pathway for individuals to learn a new way of thinking, explore new options, and give back to a community. This month provides an opportunity to look at the accomplishment of these heroes of the past and present while, challenging those to make a positive change for the future.


Written by: Dr. Joseph Campbell

Dr. Joseph Campbell is currently the Director of Training in the Counselor Education & Supervision program at Argosy University, Chicago . He obtained his Masters of Arts degree in School Counseling from Concordia University where he specialized in working with adolescents and young adults. Dr. Campbell’s research interest includes social justice and advocacy in classrooms and communities, and the integration of technology into the counseling field.

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Argosy University, Online Programs Psychology Graduate Rebecca Bailey Beats the Odds to Survive—and Thrive

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It was the summer in 2012, and Rebecca Bailey knew something was terribly wrong.

Bailey, who worked in a group home providing care for the mentally challenged, had been experiencing excruciating headaches, tremors, memory loss, and incontinence. “I was gradually losing control of my body and I didn’t know why,” she recalls. “There were days when I could barely hold my head up. I looked like a bobblehead doll.”

One night, after dropping a full pan of spaghetti on the kitchen floor, Bailey was rushed to the hospital. Doctors diagnosed a birth defect in her brain stem and performed emergency surgery, removing fluid on her brain and correcting a life-threatening blockage

“Most people make it through life without ever seeing pictures of their brains,” says Bailey, now 46. “But within a period of a few months, I saw dozens of photos of mine—everything from x-rays to brains scans and MRI images.”

As she recovered from the surgery, Bailey had plenty of time to reflect on her life—and on all of the things she wished were different. She felt like she was being given a second chance, and she was determined to make it count.

“It occurred to me that I had a pretty resilient brain,” says Bailey, who lives in Elwood City, Pennsylvania. “After racking up $110,000 in medical bills, I remember thinking it was time to see how far my expensive brain could take me.”

Motivated by a desire to better understand some of the things that have happened in her life—and her reactions to them—she decided to return to college after 20 years to pursue her degree in Psychology at Argosy University.

“I wanted to earn a degree that would allow me to improve my own life—and to help others improve theirs,” she explains. “I’ve experienced a lot of pain and seen a lot of destruction in my life. I have family members who have struggled with everything from alcoholism to heroin addiction. I spent years hiding my son from his father, who had serious substance abuse issues. Two of my son’s childhood friends and a family member have died from opioid addiction Deciding to go back to college gave me a sense of hope at a time when hope was in short supply.”

Bailey was accepted into the Psychology program at Argosy University, Online Programs and started classes in December of 2014.

“At first, I was intimidated,” she remembers. “My computer skills were pretty much nonexistent, and it had been a long time since I first attended college. I was also working full time during my first year at Argosy. But I had a strong desire to improve my life. I enrolled in the online program because I wanted plenty of flexibility. It took a while to develop good study habits and learn how to keep distractions to a minimum.”

Bailey was on track and thriving when, in May of 2016, she received another jarring health diagnosis: breast cancer. A lumpectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy followed, as did an infection in her lymph nodes. Bailey says the moral support she received throughout the ordeal from her Argosy success advisor, Jennifer Rauch, and her financial aid counselor, Morgan Gilbert, lifted her spirits and reminded her to stay focused on the future.

“When I began the online program, I was concerned that I’d feel isolated and alone,” says Bailey. “But Jennifer was always there for me, especially when I was dealing with my cancer diagnosis. She had been my success advisor for two and a half years at that point, but we didn’t actually meet face to face until we had lunch in Pittsburgh the day of my first chemo treatment. She listened as I cried, and she encouraged me to take advantage of Argosy’s counseling services. I also got to meet Morgan, who helped provide a real sense of comfort throughout the chaos. The treatment took a lot out of me, and Morgan reminded me how strong I really was.”

Bailey says her faith and the support of her three children (Collin, Will and Jordyn) kept her motivated to stay focused on her education. In December, 2017, Bailey earned her BA in Psychology (with a concentration in Substance Abuse)—with a 3.7 GPA. She just landed a job in insurance sales and will continue volunteering through her church, providing support services to the homeless. With the help of her degree, Bailey also has a paid internship lined up at Beckley Comprehensive Treatment Center in Beaver, West Virginia. She will be coached on how to help individuals overcome substance dependency, as well as how to conduct group and individual counseling there. 

Bailey recently spoke in front of the Argosy University, Online Programs staff in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She shared her story told here, and delivered a heartfelt 'thank you' to her personal Argosy University, Online Programs advisor's who were in the room. She brought everyone in the room to tears, as well as displayed a real-life example of an online student with her story, hurdles, tragedy, and current successes. She showed a real purpose and live motivation for what Argosy advisors do daily. 

“I feel like the past six years have really tested me—and I passed,” says Bailey. “If I can make it through everything that’s happened in my life so far, I feel like I’m ready for anything.” ###


Pictured: Rebecca with her advisors and Rebecca speaking at Argosy University, Online Programs on 2/1/18.


See http://ge.argosy.edu/programoffering/5419 for program duration, tuition, fees and other costs, median debt, salary data, alumni success, and other important info.

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