Teen Outsmarts Doctors In Science Class

Self-diagnosis impresses docs who've missed signs of her disease for years

By Emily Feldman
|  Thursday, Jul 9, 2009  |  Updated 5:40 AM PDT
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High school senior Jessica Terry studied her own tissue samples as part of her school’s biomedical course. (Photo courtesy Sammamish Reporter)

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When doctors didn't give a Washington state high school student the answers she wanted, she took matters into her own hands.

Eighteen-year-old Jessica Terry, brought slides of her own intestinal tissue into her AP science class and correctly diagnosed herself with Crohn's disease.

"It's weird I had to solve my own medical problem," Terry told CNN affiliate KOMO. "There were just no answers anywhere ... I was always sick."

For years she went from doctor to doctor complaining of vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss and stomach pains. They said she had irritable bowel syndrome. They said she had colitis. They said the slides of her intestinal tissue were fine, but she knew that wasn't right.

"Not knowing much about a disease you're growing up with is not only nerve-wracking, but it's confusing," Terry told the Sammamish Reporter.

So when local pathologists stopped in to teach students in her Biomedical Problems class how to analyze slides, the high school senior decided to give her own intestines a look. 

What she found? A large dark area showing inflammation, otherwise known as a granuloma--a sure sign of the intestinal disease.

To confirm her suspicion, she checked in with her teacher.

"'Ms. Welch! Ms. Welch! Come over here. I think I've got something!" she shouted.

Mary Margaret Welch, who has spent 17 years teaching science at Eastside Catholic School, had a feeling Terry was on to something. 

 "I snapped a picture of it on the microscope and e-mailed it to the pathologist," Welch said. "Within 24 hours, he sent back an e-mail saying yes, this is a granuloma."

The finding impressed doctors.

"Granulomas are oftentimes very hard to find and not always even present at all," said Dr. Corey Siegel, a bowel disease specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. "I commend Jessica for her meticulous work."

While Terry's glad to finally have answers, she now knows she'll have a tough road ahead.

Crohn's disease is an incurable, though treatable condition caused by inflammation in the intestines. It can cause malnutrition, ulcers, pain and discomfort.

Still, she looks towards the future with optimism.  She'll begin nursing school in the fall and hopes to have a kid's book on Crohn's disease published.

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