A Sincere “Thank You!” to the Rhode Island Interscholastic League, and to My Dad

By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.

Dated: October 22, 2017      

As it gets closer to Wednesday’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony, I have been reflecting more and more upon what the Rhode Island Interscholastic League (“RIIL”) has meant to me. The simple fact is, RIIL changed my life, and has afforded me more opportunities and experiences than I could have ever hoped to have experienced in my lifetime.

You know, even though my family (the Johnstons) have been successful in the hammer and weight throws long before I picked either one up, I actually stumbled upon the events by pure happenstance. When I started high school, the hammer and weight throws were relatively new events for females. In fact, it wasn’t until the summer before my senior year that the women’s hammer throw became an Olympic event. So when my high school track coach told us in 1998 that the events had recently been added to RIIL-sponsored track meets, he asked for some volunteers, and I was one of the girls who signed up.

By the end of my four years competing as a Rhode Island student-athlete in high school track and field, I had accomplished the following:

  • Gatorade Rhode Island Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year – in 1999, 2000 and 2001
  • Rhode Island high school girls indoor track and field state champion – weight throw – in 1999 and 2000
  • Rhode Island high school girls outdoor track and field state champion – hammer throw – in 1999, 2000 and 2001
  • Former Rhode Island high school girls indoor track and field state record holder in the weight throw (set in 1999 and again in 2000)
  • Rhode Island high school girls outdoor track and field state record holder in the hammer – tied with existing record in 1999; set a new record in 2000, and again in 2001 (which remains the state record to this day)
  • National high school girls indoor track and field champion – National Scholastic Indoor Championships – weight throw – in 1999, 2000 and 2001
  • National high school girls indoor track and field champion – Nike Indoor Classic – weight throw – in 2000 and 2001
  • Former sophomore-class national record holder in the girls’ weight throw (set in 1999)
  • National high school girls outdoor track and field champion – hammer throw – in 1999, 2000 and 2001
  • Only three-time national champion in the girls’ hammer throw in National Scholastic Outdoor High School Track and Field Championship history
  • Former freshman-class and sophomore-class national record holder in the girls’ hammer throw (set in 1998 and 1999, respectively)
  • Trained at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California in 2000
  • Filmed a training video for the hammer throw for United States of America Track and Field in 2000
  • Member of the 2000 United States Track and Field Junior National Team, competing in the 2000 World Junior Track and Field Championships in Santiago, Chile
  • Received almost 70 formal recruitment letters/packets from NCAA Division I schools, and ultimately accepted a full athletic scholarship to attend The Pennsylvania State University

Funny thing is, I honestly don’t remember doing half of these things; it was my father who had to remind me. See, more importantly than any award or record, the bond I shared with my father during my eight years of track and field was (and still is) one of the most important and best things that could have ever happened to me. He was (and remains) my biggest supporter (along with my mom); he was my coach (along with my uncle), my talent agent (moderating and keeping account of all the college recruitment letters and phone calls), my strength trainer and my best friend. Over eight years of competitions, spanning from New Hampshire to Florida, North Carolina to California, Canada to Chile, and including each and every RIIL-sponsored local meet, my father only missed two of my performances! That was while commuting every work day from Warwick, Rhode Island to Boston, Massachusetts for work.

The discipline, the sense of sportsmanship, teamwork and sacrifice, the collegiality with my fellow competitors and the sense of self-worth as a young female and as a student-athlete – they can all be attributed as much to RIIL as they can to my dad, Keith Johnston. That is why I feel so indebted to both.

Indeed, I am absolutely certain that any success or accomplishments I have achieved following my 2001 graduation from Warwick Veterans Memorial High School can be directly traced back to my time participating in high school sports, as well as to the time spent and sacrifices made by my father to help me achieve my best.

So on Wednesday night, as I am inducted into the RIIL Hall of Fame, I will be accepting this great honor on behalf of myself and my dad, and in great reverence to RIIL. You have changed my life infinitely for the better, and I am so grateful to be a part of RIIL history. Thank you.

You can follow RIIL on Twitter at https://twitter.com/riil_sports or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RIILSports 

For last-minute tickets to the event, which must be purchased prior to Wednesday’s event, visit: http://www.riil.org/page/hot_news/view/11 

Where, Oh Where, Has Patient-Focused Healthcare Gone?

By: Katherine Itacy, Esq.

Dated: October 14, 2017

Okay, so I have been a frequent flyer of the healthcare system for pretty much my entire life. Besides having met with my diabetic specialist every 3-6 months for the last 29 years, I have had at least 45 different surgeries/procedures during that same time frame (the majority of which having occurred between 2010 and 2014), have undergone countless MRIs, CT scans, X-rays and/or mammograms, and have visited most specialists more times than I care to admit.

My diabetes has led to my body attacking several of my body parts, including my eyes, my hands, my wrists and elbows, my breasts, and the nerves in all four limbs. My eyes suffered from diabetic retinopathy, which basically means that the blood vessels in the eyes were leaking.

Between 2010 and 2014, while undergoing 24 separate laser eye surgeries (each involving the ophthalmologist shooting 600 laser points into my eye while I am awake and screaming), I was visiting the doctor and his support staff about once every two months, if not more often. It was like Cheers – everybody there knew my name! I would often joke that my punch card must entitle me to a free surgery after all the previous purchases I had made! (Ok, so I never said it was a good joke….)

And for most of my 33+ years being a professional patient, I have been very fortunate to have had some wonderful doctors. But as I started seeing more and more specialists (you know, rheumatologists, breast surgeons, general surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, endocrinologists, neurosurgeons, neurologists, pain specialists, urologists, gastroenterologists…basically anyone with an -ist or a surgeon in their title), I started noticing how some of these doctors ran their practices somewhat akin to puppy mills. There was no getting to know the patient or their concerns. There was no getting to know the patient’s history, beyond what you can cram into the 2-4 paged patient intake forms that have become the bane of my existence. In fact, there was almost no speaking between the doctor and patient at all. And if I had a particular question or had the nerve to ask about alternate treatments or potential side effects to a new medication (especially considering how it may interact with the multiple other medications I am already on), I was repeatedly dismissed or downright ignored.

After I had my 24 laser eye surgeries, and after also having had two vitrectomies to remove blood from my eyes after they both hemorrhaged, two cataract surgeries, two surgeries to remove scar tissue from the new cataract lenses, and about a half-dozen Avastin injections into my eyes, my ophthalmologist in Rhode Island explained to me that there were no more laser surgeries to be done. My eyes had developed so much scar tissue from all of the previous surgeries, there was no way to get visualization of my leaking blood vessels. All that was left was to keep monitoring my vision and hope that I did not become blind.

Once I moved to Texas, I made an appointment to meet with a new ophthalmologist in the area. I filled out those godforsaken patient intake forms, was taken in for some initial tests, and then went in to see the doctor. He quickly did a visual scan of my intake forms and then said: “You haven’t had any eye surgeries in the past, have you?” …. Not off to a great start. I then explained my vast surgical history, and told him that it had been over two years since my last laser surgery.

Knowing nothing else about me (other than the fact that I was an insulin-dependent diabetic and had an extensive history of diabetic retinopathy), this doctor decided to then ask/accuse me of the following: “Why has it been over two years since your last laser surgery? Is it because you’re neglecting your diabetes?”

Excuse me. Had you asked me politely (and allowed me to actually respond), I would have told you that my prior specialist was unable to do any more surgeries because of the excess amount of scar tissue in the eyes.

After hearing my explanation, the lovely doctor then conducted a visual exam of my eyes and concurred with my previous doctor’s analysis.

I was actually astounded by this man’s judgment of a patient he had met only moments before! Could he not help himself but to speak condescendingly towards a patient who had been suffering from Type I diabetes for almost thirty years? As if this patient wanted to be at risk of going blind, and had chosen to do nothing about it?

I have so many more horror stories I could share with you, but I’ll spare you the pain and go on to finally make a point.

I understand that medical professionals are overworked. I understand that they have to deal with insurance companies and with federal regulations regarding online patient records. I understand that some patients are a handful, and are doing little-to-nothing to help themselves have better health.

Indeed, as a criminal defense attorney who ran her own practice for 5 years, I have certainly experienced being overworked, underpaid, overloaded with paperwork and unappreciated by the most time-consuming and frustrating clients imaginable.

But as a professional who has advanced knowledge and/or training in his or her area of expertise, you have an obligation to your patients/clients to help them in their hour of need. Now, I may be a bit biased in this regard. I always tried to follow a holistic, client-focused method of practice, even if it was at my own expense (health- or time-wise). I tried to empathize with the fear a client faces when arrested or incarcerated for the first time, or with the despair an appellate client starts to feel when he is facing a lifetime in prison if his appellate remedies are exhausted. I have taken the time to consider how a client feels when people are picketing outside of his family’s home, or how alone a client with mental health issues feels as he spins ‘round and ‘round the revolving door of imprisonment because he is homeless and doesn’t have the mental capacity or wherewithal to obtain the proper medication to quiet the voices in his head.

I know that there are patient-focused doctors out there, just as I know that there are an excessive number of careless or profit-obsessed attorneys. But there seems to be more and more medical professionals who are angry at the current status of the health care and insurance systems in America, and are taking it out on their patients.

Remember to find the humanity in each and every one of your patients. You are treating a human being, not a medical cadaver. Each person’s body is unique and carries with it its own set of medical issues and bodily limitations. Therefore, not every patient’s body is going to respond the same to the same treatment protocol. You are no longer in med school, being quizzed on a hypothetical set of facts presented for your diagnosis. Your patient is likely to be afraid, maybe even terrified. They are counting on you to help them understand what is going on; whether they have a clean bill of health or have 3-6 months to live. The very last thing he or she needs is to feel judged.

So maybe you can take a few more minutes out of your busy schedule, look up from your laptop and have a face-to-face conversation with your patient. If my own history as both a lifelong patient and a former owner of a professional services practice is of any indication, your practice (and your soul) will never suffer from treating your patients with even just a bit more empathy. And it will make all the difference in your patients’ lives.

To read more of my thoughts on this subject and more, please keep an eye out for my upcoming book, and feel free to follow me on Twitter at @katherine_itacy

Welcome, readers!

My name is Katherine (Johnston) Itacy, and welcome to my site! I intend to use this site to explain who I am, the journey I’ve been on, and the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Born and raised in Warwick, Rhode Island, I am a 29+ year-long Type I Diabetic who threw the 20-pound weight and hammer throw in high school and college. After setting both state and national high school records, winning eight national high school championships and competing in the 2000 World Junior Track and Field Championship in Santiago, Chile, I earned an athletic scholarship to Penn State.

Later, I earned an academic scholarship to Roger Williams University School of Law. I loved law school; I joined both the moot court board and the trial team, conducted research for several professors and a private attorney, and graduated fourth in my class. I spent a year working for a private criminal defense attorney before pairing up with a classmate in his practice, and eventually, going out on my own. I spent five years running my own law firm in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, focusing on pre-trial, trial and appellate work for criminal defendants, and hearings and appeals for convicted sex offenders. I joined the Rhode Island and National ACLU board of directors, as well as the Rhode Island Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers board of directors, and did pro bono work for both the ACLU and for indigent criminal defendants.

Running my criminal defense law firm was the most rewarding experience I have ever had, but it took its toll on my diabetes. During four of the five years I ran the practice, I underwent over three dozen surgeries. Diabetes had attacked my eyes, my hands, and the nerves in my elbows and wrists.

In November of 2014, I took a job in Del Rio, Texas, as a legal research and writing specialist for the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Western District of Texas. I loved my work there, but my health began to deteriorate further, to the point that I could no longer perform my job responsibilities. I developed an incurable spinal nerve pain disorder called adhesive arachnoiditis, as a result of a 1988 lipoma/tethered spinal cord surgery. The diabetes has also caused benign tumors to develop in my breasts, and has damaged the nerves in my lower body.

For the last 22 months, I have been on a mind-numbing journey to find adequate health care, including a sufficient drug protocol to help alleviate my daily pain. I have also had to adjust to my new quality of life, and to accept the fact that I can no longer pursue my life’s calling.

I hope that you can use this blog site (as well as the book I am writing) as a resource. I will be using both the site and the book to document my life’s journey, and to share some of the life lessons I have learned from living in a diseased body. My poor health has motivated me to live the fullest life possible, but I have days (as I am sure that many physically disabled persons do) when I feel as if the medical system and my body have failed me. We all need an avenue to vent our frustrations, and to feel as if we are understood. I hope you will find that you can do those things here.

I look forward to hearing from some of you as to what struggles you have faced with your health and with the medical system in America. We all need emotional support from time to time, and I am confident that we can find that in one another. I wish you all good health, and a full, happy life!

Sincerely,

Kate