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February 10, 1998
MEDIA CONTACT: Karen Infeld
PHONE: (410) 955-1534
Kelly Ripken, wife of Baltimore Orioles star Cal Ripken, Jr., has established a program at Johns 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.
"The Kelly G. Ripken Program: A Johns Hopkins Resource for Thyroid Education and Patient Care," offers patients and their families assistance in understanding thyroid conditions. Ripken has been treated by Hopkins endocrinologist Paul Ladenson, M.D., for thyroid disease. Ladenson, director of endocrinology and metabolism, will be the program's co-director.
Ripken's concern for thyroid education dates back to her own experience. In 1984, when she and Cal were talking about marriage, she should have been excited. But she couldn't shake a nagging headache, get some 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 all of 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, R.N., 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 and becoming an active participant and source of support, I hope to alleviate similar frustrations that other patients may be feeling."
Graves' disease, named after the Irish physician who first described several cases in the 1840s, is one of many thyroid conditions. It is caused by an abnormal thyroid-stimulating antibody that causes the thyroid gland to produce large amounts of hormones in an uncontrolled manner.
Graves' disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, a condition characterized by weight loss, nervousness, irritability and muscle weakness. It affects about two in every 1,000 people and can be treated by medications, radioactive iodine or surgery.
Hypothyroidism, the problem that occurs when too little hormone is produced, is about 10 times more common.
Ladenson says that stories like Ripken's are not unusual, because the symptoms of thyroid disease, such as fatigue, anxiety and weight loss, are so common.
"For both doctors and patients, 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 generous gift will allow us to increase our emphasis on our patients' comfort -- both in terms of their medical care and in their understanding of their condition. We look forward to working with her to help people throughout the nation with thyroid disorders."
The Kelly G. Ripken Program also will offer a free TSH blood test, which can identify people with an underactive or overactive thyroid gland. Testing will be offered at three Baltimore sites: the Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center, Johns Hopkins at Green Spring Station in Lutherville and Pro-Health in West Baltimore. Appointments for TSH screening can be made by calling the Ripken Program.
In addition, two patient libraries will be established at Hopkins' East Baltimore campus and its Green Spring Station location.
For additional information about the Ripken Program or to make an appointment, call (410) 614-1174 or toll-free 1 (888) 595-2131. Information also is available on the Internet at http://thyroid-ripken.med.jhu.edu.