The stainless steel bars that support Rebecca Uhl’s ribcage not only serve a critical medical purpose. They’re also a reminder of the support she has provided to others over the last three years.
A senior marketing major at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, Uhl had been diagnosed with pectus excavatum, a medical condition that gives the chest a caved-in appearance. In early 2013, at the urging of her godmother, Uhl began researching her condition. She found an online forum that continually referenced the work of Dr. Dawn E. Jaroszewski, a cardiac and thoracic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, in Phoenix, Ariz.
Uhl contacted Jaroszewski and, a few months later, underwent a surgical procedure to remedy her medical condition. The surgery with Jaroszewski – whom more commonly answers to Dr. J – included the placing of two bars underneath her rib cage to alleviate cardiac compression. Like braces reshape teeth, the bars reshape the chest for a three-year period before they are removed.
“I accidentally found Dr. J through YouTube, and she changed my life,” said Uhl, who shared the story of her diagnosis and treatment with more than a dozen Temple University medical students Oct. 26 at Temple’s Alter Hall. Dr. J later joined Uhl’s video presentation via web-conferencing platform. “Getting on the plane to fly across the country for surgery was one of the most difficult moments of my life, but I knew it was the right decision.”
Uhl’s speaking engagement, titled, “Challenging the Process,” addressed her surgery and her later work with the Mayo Clinic.
A phone call in 2013 closed the 2,500-mile gap between Uhl and Dr. J. And after developing a level of comfort with the Mayo Clinic, Uhl determined she would undergo the surgery with Dr. J and the Mayo Clinic.
After the surgery, Uhl, who hopes to pursue a career in healthcare marketing, “started asking myself how I could give back to the team that had done so much for me.” Given her technology expertise and business education, Uhl interned for Jaroszewski and helped develop a website and a Facebook page for the surgeon.
Uhl later earned an internship with Mayo Clinic in Summer 2015, spending the summer creating patient portfolios and writing posts for the clinic’s blog. She also created a series of videos geared toward guiding prospective patients through the process that culminates in the operating room.
“Bringing in Rebecca gave us the opportunity to have someone who understands our goals of advocating for patients. She has a passion that truly helped us,” said Kelly Myers, Mayo Clinic Pectus Program Coordinator.
Uhl’s work extended to the creation of CancerApp, an application database that can be utilized to help cancer patients connect with one another, raise funds to support their procedures, and gather more information about doctors.
“I hope to encourage fellow students to take chances and use the knowledge that they are already learning,” said Uhl, who also sits on the Board of Directors for the Pectus Awareness and Support Foundation, a nonprofit. “I want to make an impact and help other students see their potential. I want to continue in service of others to help them with whatever they need.”