The Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Network received a story from one of our RDNs in Chartwells K12. Please join us in learning more about Sarcoidosis, one of our RDN’s personal “sarc warrior” journey, and how appreciating the limitations of a chronic illness while promoting individual strengths and experiences can lead to new opportunities.
April is Sarcoidosis Awareness Month. Have you heard of it? RDN, Emily Pomykala, has.
Sarcoidosis is an autoimmune disease characterized by the formation of granulomas in any organ system of the body. The presence of immune cell clusters causes dysfunction and can lead to permanent scarring and death. Ninety percent of sarcoidosis patients have pulmonary and lymphatic involvement. In some cases, the disease goes into remission on its own. In others, it may not progress clinically, but individuals still suffer from symptoms that challenge their quality of life. Daily joint and muscle pain, widespread fatigue, and medication side effects are a daily and lifelong battle for “sarc warriors,” as patients have aptly named themselves. Managing symptoms, medical care, and personal work-life balance is an extreme challenge for most.
One of these “sarc warriors” is Chartwells K12’s own, Emily Pomykala, MS RDN. In 2007, Emily was a medical mystery to her doctors after a rapid decline to being bed bound and unable to work full-time as she once did. It was by luck that a chest x-ray indicated the presence of enlarged lymph nodes in her chest. Initially thought to be lymphoma, a biopsy of the cells revealed the key presence of granulomas and sarcoidosis diagnosis. Doctors told her she was “disabled.” Unhappy with the new moniker and the side effects of high-dose steroids to treat her systemic inflammation, Emily became focused on medical nutrition therapy as a powerful accompaniment to her treatment plan. This personal journey fed her desire to help others with the preventative and curative powers of food as medicine.
Emily has been employed as a Resident Registered Dietitian with Compass Group, NAD since 2014 upon completion of her dietetic internship with the Morrison Chartwells Distance Internship. She credits the leaders and preceptors in the internship program, that were committed to finding flexible rotations to complete supervised practice within her needs. This included placements with part-time hours and preceptors that appreciated the limitations of a chronic illness while promoting her unique strengths and experiences.
While completing hours within her School Nutrition concentration, District Managers and Directors recognized Emily as a dietitian that offered superior management of nutrition compliance, operation support, and a special talent for fun “nutrition edutainment” with students and faculty. She was soon offered a role within the district that provided the flexibility she needed to create preventative nutrition education while managing any disease-related symptoms and work-life. As a Resident Dietitian in Wethersfield, Farmington, and now South Windsor Public Schools in Connecticut, she has provided nutrition instruction to over 10,000 students, 15 school sports teams, and works within school communities throughout the Northeast.
She has remained with the Chartwells K12 and is excited to celebrate her 10-year anniversary in the 2023-2024 school year. She states, “I know that no matter what my life or illness throws at me, Chartwells K12 leaders and management have my back, they have valued me since my time as an intern.” She continues, “Remission is not a choice for me, but where I work is. I choose Chartwells K12 because my talents and skills are the focus before my limits.”
Interested in learning more about sarcoidosis? Visit https://www.stopsarcoidosis.org/ for resources, including those for medical professionals, research opportunities, and how you can help spread awareness for “sarc warriors” around the world.