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Pediatric Rheumatology’s Graham driven to care

Oct. 27, 2016, 8:35 AM

Pedatric rheumatologist T. Brent Graham, M.D., enjoys being able to be a part of his patients’ lives over the long term. (photo by Susan Urmy)
Pediatric rheumatologist T. Brent Graham, M.D., enjoys being able to be a part of his patients’ lives over the long term. (photo by Susan Urmy)

A thank-you message is pinned to the wall of the work room of T. Brent Graham, M.D., and his team. The crayon-penned note reads simply, “Than you for tacen car of me Dr. Graham.”

The note echoes the thanks of the many pediatric patients and families that Graham, director of the Division of Pediatric Rheumatology at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, sees every day, and reflects the kind, caring bedside manner his young patients observe.

“The patient/doctor relationship is really what attracted me to Rheumatology,” Graham said. “We have a chance to be a part of our patients’ lives for a long time and the relationship is really important in chronic disease. This long-term care gives us the ability to treat and control the disease.”

Graham, joined by Donna Hummell, M.D., and Alisa Gotte, M.D., is the director of the Pediatric Rheumatology division, which records more than 6,000 patient visits each year. Their patients range from infants to college-age and are treated for autoimmune conditions such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, vasculitis and more.

Graham’s kind and personable interest in his patients, as well as a team-oriented approach to care, makes the rheumatology clinic at Children’s Hospital a place that isn’t as scary to his patients as the disorders they face.

“He’s an amazing and intelligent doctor,” said Amber Bullington, R.N., a nurse in the infusion clinic. “He takes a lot of time with his patients and their families and makes sure they understand what is needed while guiding them through the process. It can be a scary process for the parents, who have never experienced this before. He shows that he really cares about his patients.”

Graham always knew he wanted to help children, and he grew up watching his father do just that for numerous families in Nashville. He was 5 when his father, Thomas Graham, M.D., moved their family to Nashville in 1971 to start the first Pediatric Cardiology program at Children’s Hospital.

It was his passion for science and medicine and desire to make a difference that led Graham to Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Following his graduation in 1992, he spent 16 years working in hospitals in Philadelphia and Cincinnati before returning to Vanderbilt.

In September 2008, he left his position as clinical director of the Division of Pediatric Rheumatology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to guide the newly formed Pediatric Rheumatology division at Vanderbilt.

“I enjoy pediatric rheumatology because of the diverse patient population that includes diseases which affect all organs. We still have a lot to learn, but our ability to treat patients with chronic diseases and improve their quality of life has improved dramatically since I started in this field,” Graham said.

Graham works with a growing team that takes on a holistic approach to patient care in a field with a growing need.

“We are starting to recruit more people to our team to help us in this challenge. I am especially grateful for all of the support staff, nurses, therapists, nurse practitioners and physicians in our group.”

With three attending physicians, three nurse practitioners, two registered nurses, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist and one fellow, the team is able to collaborate and design specific care plans for each patient.

‘We’ve added personnel as we’ve seen the volume of patients increase statewide. There a shortage of pediatric rheumatologists. It’s an untapped need in most areas,” Graham said.

Adding a fellow to the team contributes to his commitment to continuing education.

“Our goal is to continue to educate about these diseases so they can be better recognized, referred and evaluated,” Graham said. “This will improve the outcome.”

The clinic has expanded its services to Cookeville and also has a clinic in Franklin, since the division is the only one in the region.

Mandy Gillian, a physical therapist in Rheumatology since 2009, said working on Graham’s team is an amazing experience.

“I love that we are able to do the multiple discipline clinic. It’s a great team approach and the families can have all their appointments on the same day and have their medical needs met,” Gillian said.

“Dr. Graham is an excellent physician and takes care of all his patients with so much dignity, respect and knowledge. And that leaves our patients knowing they are in good hands.”

Graham and his wife, Evelyne, who graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School, have been married for 27 years. They have three children — Caroline, 22, David, 20, and Will, 16.

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