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>  News Releases >   2002 >   January

Dartmouth senior's personal experience enriches her life and the lives of others

Posted 01/23/02

Although diagnosed with Crohn's disease at the age of 12, Newton, Mass., native Mara Buchbinder never allowed it to define who she was. However, going to Dartmouth made her realize that she could use this aspect of herself to help others.

"When I came to Dartmouth, I learned for the first time that I had to think a lot about my health," said Buchbinder. Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammation affecting the intestinal tract. "But what it also did was make me curious about how other people responded to their own health needs."

Now in her final year at Dartmouth, she is one of nine Senior Fellows pursuing an independent project that involves studying children ages 13-18 diagnosed with childhood diabetes, in the hope that her study will improve their quality of life. Senior Fellows are individually selected by the College president, and are freed from taking classes to pursue independent projects during their senior year.

In her project, Buchbinder builds upon a technique known as Video Intervention Assessment (VIA) developed by a research group at Children's Hospital in Boston, in which patients are given a camcorder to videotape their daily lives. "It's basically taking medicine back to the days of the home visit, where the doctor would actually see the patient in his or her own context," said Buchbinder. "That can reveal a lot of things that would never come out in a half-hour doctor's visit."

Each patient takes approximately eight hours of videotape, which Buchbinder then reviews. Originally this reviewing process was used to help uncover external factors that may be aggravating a patient's illness. In her study, Buchbinder is using VIA to study the psychosocial impact of chronic illness. The video provides data on the effects that a chronic illness can induce, such as social isolation from peers. This data can then be used to develop support programs to address these problems.

Buchbinder believes that the positive effects of her work go beyond the strictly diagnostic. "Having the camera itself is very empowering for these kids," said Buchbinder. "Just the mere act of saying 'I want to hear what you have to say, tell me your story and I am going to listen' - that alone can completely increase their confidence and change the course of their lives."

Buchbinder's interest in helping young people with chronic illnesses began with her involvement in the Steps Towards Adult Responsibility (STAR) program, which she discovered her freshman year at Dartmouth. This program matches chronically ill Dartmouth students with children who suffer from the same diseases to provide mutual support. "When I started mentoring, I met people who were experiencing similar things to me," said Buchbinder. "It's really important that people don't feel like they have to go through [chronic illness] alone."

For Buchbinder, Dartmouth's Senior Fellowship program has been pivotal in allowing her to pursue such a unique and interdisciplinary project. "I have an advisor who's a psychologist, one who's a sociologist and one who's an anthropologist. It's so great because I can sit down and get three completely different perspectives that are all very relevant to what I'm doing," said Buchbinder. "The Senior Fellowship program is a wonderful opportunity."

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