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Search for Healing Inspires Center for Neurorestoration

 3 min read

This article was contributed by a family generously supporting the Raphael Center for Neurorestoration

Saint Raphael is biblically known as an Archangel who has had numerous miracles attributed, whose name means “God heals” and in certain theologies is the patron of doctors, nurses, medical workers, and healing bodily ills. The Raphael Center for Neurorestoration at Thomas Jefferson University aspires to fulfill a similar purpose.

Led by Mijail Serruya, MD, PhD, assistant professor and the center’s inaugural director, the Raphael Center will launch a new era for neurorestoration, blending technological advances with clinical and surgical breakthroughs to restore, promote, maintain, and improve function in individuals affected by debilitating neurological disorders—especially chronic illness. Dr. Serruya will execute his vision with the help of initial funding from a grateful family that has experienced the power of Dr. Serruya’s work. They hope that sharing their story will encourage others to give in support of this life-changing program.

At 16, Francie contracted a common virus and never fully recovered. Ten years before the COVID-19 pandemic, Francie found herself similar to those who now suffer from long-COVID—socially isolated, scared, and confused.

“This was a very frenetic time as we searched under every stone and around every corner for an answer,” said Francie’s parents. “People who don’t experience this distress have no way of understanding the desperation. We tested every limit to save our child from pain, suffering, anguish, and loneliness. Only our God kept us from hopelessness.”

Francie would eventually be diagnosed with an underlying connective tissue disorder, genetically predisposing her to multiple autoimmune conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease and painful autonomic and small fiber neuropathies. She was seen by specialists across the country, however, management of her condition was poor, as insufficient research into the disorders has hindered the development of standards of care that can move the needle for patients like her.

In 2016, their quest for help for their daughter led them to Jefferson where they met Dr. Serruya.

“Dr. Serruya has been treating Francie for seven years, and throughout that time has provided the requisite skills, compassion, and commitment to give her a quality of life worth living,” Francie’s parents said. “Dr. Serruya quickly evolved into Francie’s quarterback by coordinating her care across medical disciplines to provide more holistic, effective care required to combat the complexity of her case.”

This responsive, thorough, ambitious, steadfast, and intellectually curious approach represents qualities critical—but currently lacking—to care for chronic illness.

“There is no way to replicate the head and heart of Dr. Serruya, but our hope is by supporting the Raphael Center for Neurorestoration that the patient-centered research and treatment processes by which Dr. Serruya has given me my life back can be studied, honed, and disseminated,” said Francie. “Ultimately, this can inspire the care of everyone suffering from poorly defined, insufficiently studied, and often neglected diseases.

“I have something medicine today considers a ‘low prestige disease’—a chronic condition that isn’t confined to one bodily system and therefore tends to be vague and difficult to diagnose and treat. Disorders in this category often carry shame and stigma, or are thought to be the ‘fault’ of the sufferer. This compounds the suffering of the already burdened person and their family. For people like me, we need high quality clinicians, and that is exactly what Dr. Serruya has built in his team.”

Francie and her family trust in the work being done at the center because it aligns with their faith-based beliefs that “one must be centered on work as something greater than us; and, we must always remember that distinct call to live with humility and infuse our efforts with compassion.”