NEW YORK- Dr. Catherine Nicolaides-Codella is a developmental pediatrician instrumental in saving Sammy as described in the book Saving Sammy, written by Beth A. Maloney, a mother who believed her son suffered from PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorder Associated with Streptococcus). Young Sammy*#8217;s recovery from the Obsessive Compulsive symptoms he experienced was credited primarily to the intervention by Dr. Nicolaides, who aided in the shift from despair to hope for Sammy*#8217;s condition. Sammy*#8217;s story was recently presented on NBC*#8217;s the Today Show. Dr. Nicolaides is also an active member of the Hellenic Medical Society, both in New York and Philadelphia.
TNH: How did you become involved with saving Sammy?
CN: Sammy was a young man who came to my office about eight years ago. He was quite ill with extreme obsessive compulsive symptoms and some ticks. His mother was very resourceful and had stumbled on the diagnosis of PANDAS. Sammy had tried some traditional medication such as Zoloft, an SSRI; he had some treatments with antibiotics and traditional medication with antibiotics. Over the years, we had eliminated his antibiotics and that often correlated with an exacerbation of symptoms, so we had to put him back on antibiotics and then were able to maintain him on a low dose of antibiotics over time. There was a time period then when we were able to withdraw his antibiotics entirely. When he was exposed to a recent strep infection, he would have an exacerbation of symptoms. He has now been symptom-free for a better part of a year.
The problem with PANDAS is that*#8217;s its not well-studied and that we don*#8217;t know the prevalence, so by writing this book, attempting to start a foundation and going on programs, Beth Maloney is really pushing for us to study this better, as there*#8217;s been a lot of turmoil within the academic community about whether this PANDAS exists, does not exist, etc.
TNH: Tell us about how you got to where you are today.
CN: I am based in New Jersey, born in the Bronx and raised in Queens, N.Y. I did my medical school training in Philadelphia*#8217;s Honoman, my pediatric residency at New York University and I did my a year of my fellowship at John Hopkins in Baltimore in developmental pediatrics and two years of my fellowship at Children*#8217;s Hospital in Philadelphia.
I*#8217;ve had several brushes with medicine in my high school career. I did a fellowship training at NYU where I worked with developmentally disabled patients but they were more physically handicapped and that was probably the most influential experience on my career, and so it*#8217;s kind of funny I ended up doing my training in NYU. I always knew I wanted to work with children and that was some of the incentive for going into developmental pediatrics, but at the time of my training, there was so little of this, and I knew I wanted to learn more about developmental issues. I ended up doing it as a subspecialty after my training.
TNH: What is the most challenging aspect of your career?
CN: Now it*#8217;s just trying to help these children since PANDAS has come out, but prior to that, giving a hundred percent to my family and giving a hundred percent to my career at the same time.
TNH: Who are your role models?
CN: I would have to say that my instructors throughout my career, both in my residency and in my developmental pediatric training program, and other women in medicine.
My dad has been an inspiration to me for always doing what he loved and he was so gifted at his writing and for instilling me with so much culture and pride in our Greek heritage. My mother, who worked so hard to secure a fabulous education for her children and making sure it came to fruition.
TNH: Tell us more about your family.
CN: My dad, whose mother is from Samos and whose father is from Cyprus, was born in Egypt and was raised by his grandparents and his uncle; his family migrated to Greece and he came to America when he was 19 by boat. His family was already here [at the time]. My mom came here when she was 15, and her family is from Puerto Rico.
My dad has always written for many Greek newspapers and now works with a Greek newspaper in Chicago, so he*#8217;s very active [in the Greek American community].
My children are both in college and both go to Fordham University in New York; one is studying math and one is studying biology. My husband is also in medicine; he is a gastroneurologist.
TNH: Have you ever been to Greece?
CN: I*#8217;ve been to Greece only once, about 20 years ago to visit with my father*#8217;s uncle, who has since has passed, in Samos. It is my next goal is to get my family there―my husband and my children. That will be our next traveling adventure!
TNH: Share with us some words of wisdom.
CN: Be persistent in your endeavors; never give up. I applaud Sammy*#8217;s mom who was so persistent in finding proper treatment and going on and sharing [her knowledge] with others. I applaud pediatricians out there that are on the front line who are addressing these kinds of issues. And I applaud my children who in hard times, continue to work hard and persevere toward their goals.