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Brianna Netzel was born with a rare genetic condition, Marshall-Smith syndrome. The disease causes advanced bone aging, scoliosis and problems with the heart and lungs. Now 20, Brianna sees a number of specialists to deal with her interrelated medical issues.

When COVID-19 circled the globe in the spring of 2020, Brianna’s mother, Judy Vlach, was doubly concerned. Brianna requires a wheelchair to get around and her condition left her immune system compromised. Taking her to a multitude of doctors’ appointments during a pandemic was especially hazardous.

“I’m protective of her around others when we’re in the waiting area, especially during cold and flu season. This would’ve been a whole other level,” Judy says.

When the lockdown occurred, the SIU Medicine physicians who treat Brianna were able to quickly shift their visits to the telehealth virtual platform. Pediatrician Michelle Miner, MD, and pediatric pulmonologist Mark Johnson, MD, saw Brianna at her home in Rochester, via telehealth using WebEx.

The change had multiple benefits for both doctor and patient.

“I was able to observe Brianna laying on the floor and see what she could do in her home environment instead of sitting in a wheelchair or in her mom’s lap in the clinic,” Dr. Miner says. She or a team member could also touch base with mom Judy after hours, to check on a med change.

For Judy, it was a relief not having to leave home. Pre-pandemic, Brianna’s transportation could be challenging, with the weather and parking sometimes unpredictable.

“I was curious how it would work, without the physician here to examine her. But it exceeded my expectations.

I fell in love with it immediately,” she says.

The family has home health care, so they were able to check Brianna’s vitals as needed. “And I’m capable of looking in her ears, listening to her lungs and heart, and know her baseline,” says Judy, “so I’m able to check it for Dr. Miner and Dr. Johnson and any of the other doctors who need it. We were able to do it all, and more quickly than we could have at a clinic visit.”

Dr. Miner has appreciated being able to use telehealth for many of Brianna’s appointments over the past two years. She knows it takes Judy a lot of time to get her daughter ready and to the appointment and it’s painful for Brianna.

For her most recent appointment, Dr. Miner’s office asked if they would prefer an in-clinic visit or telehealth. Judy chose telehealth.

“It’s nice to have the option,” Judy says. “I talk to the nurse and we do a screening of what’s going on with Brianna. We adjust and use our best judgement for each situation.”

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