Dr. Osei-Poku at Sharecare meeting

The meeting started with introductions of new members. Dr. Foster Osei-Poku, neurologist-in-training at the Korle-Bu teaching hospital began with a definition of autoimmune diseases, which he described as the body “directing its bullets against itself.” He listed examples of autoimmune diseases and said some people are predisposed to them at birth.
Members had several questions for Dr. Poku. Some of which were:
Q: It’s frustrating that many doctors can’t diagnose these conditions. How do you bring up the fact that the condition is neurological with them?
A: We have to create awareness among doctors about these conditions.
Q: There are doctors who have never heard of these conditions. Where do we start?
A: These diseases have come to live with us and are increasing. They need continued medical exploration. We need to organize seminars to educate doctors.
Q: Who diagnoses these type of conditions?
A: The neurologist can make the diagnosis and refer you to the neurosurgeon. Structural problems are taken care of by neurosurgeons.
Q: Do medicines re-grow nerves?
A: In some cases. If just the sleeve of the nerve is destroyed, it can re-grow. If the nerve is dead, it can’t, so it’s good to catch the condition early.
Q: If you’re told there’s a 50-50 chance of survival, what do you do?
A: I look at the age of the patient. For instance, I ask if it’s worth putting a 70-year-old patient through the risk of anaesthesia. I have to make sure the benefits of surgery outweigh the risks.
Dr. Osei-Poku talked about one of his nieces who always felt weak. Eventually, her condition was diagnosed as myasthenia. Her thymus gland, which sits in the upper chest, was removed. The thymus gland is the mother of all immune cells.
Q: Does the thymus gland apply to all autoimmune conditions? Can it be dealt with like breast cancer—in families with histories of autoimmunity, should the gland be removed?
A: We’re still not sure. It’s better to remove it in teenagers, but it also depends on the risk of transmission and the family history.
Q: Some doctors give you medicines with all sorts of side effects, such as Lyrica. What do we do?
A: For most of these conditions, the first line is the steroid, but it has several side effects: moon face, fat pad, diabetes, hypertension, and even a month of use is enough to show these. And in most cases, you need high dosages to achieve results. We try to lower the dosage to the smallest possible dose to control the disease.
Q: I became paralysed after going into surgery. I question my decision everyday.
A: Don’t blame yourself for that decision. We can’t predict who will regress or improve, it’s like going into a business. But it also comes down to will—the will to get better.
The group agreed that Sharecare organize a desensitizing seminar for doctors. The meeting ended at 12:30 pm.
Minutes recorded and submitted by Ayesha Harruna Attah.