For September’s Arthritis Awareness Month, we’d like to reshare this Q&A with Tamara Komuniecki: mother, journalist, entrepreneur and advocate. Since the age of six, she has also been living with rheumatoid arthritis and undergone numerous surgeries to deal with damage to her joints. She is familiar with St. Paul’s Hospital as a patient of Dr. Jeff Pike, an orthopedic surgeon and the physician director for the St. Paul’s Redevelopment Project. We connected with her to learn more about what the new St. Paul’s will mean to her.
What led you to become a journalist? What led to the decision to change careers and become an entrepreneur?
I’d been doing commercials and PSAs to help pay my way through my undergrad, with full intentions to go to law school, when a producer saw my demo reel and asked me to host a teen talk show on television. We filmed all the episodes of the season, but they never ended up going to air. It was too late for me though — I’d been bitten by the storytelling bug, and by then I already decided to change course away from law school.
I got my certificate in radio and television arts, while getting real experience working in the industry. I worked on a new cable TV show called Plugged In, before I was scooped up by CBC for a national, weekly show. From there I went on to have a long and exciting career in television, radio, print and online, and I still dabble to this day.
I decided to change careers mostly due to the progression of my rheumatoid arthritis. I had experienced about 32 years of RA before my little boy Finn came along.
Having my son and caring for him placed added burdens on my already weak joints, and when he was about three years old, it became time to start a series of pretty invasive and time-consuming surgeries. Over the past four years, I’ve had a hip replacement, a shoulder replacement and a subtalar fusion. I was quite sure a broadcaster, newspaper or magazine would not be prepared to give me the time off I’d need to prepare and have the surgery itself and the follow-up rehab. Also, I wanted work that would give me the chance to pick Finn up from school every day.
So the online magazine I had created when Finn was first born morphed into an online store, and then when he started school I opened up a physical brick-and-mortar shop called Delish General Store on Granville Island in Vancouver.
What is your connection to St. Paul’s Hospital?
I first went to St. Paul’s Hospital because my right shoulder had been deteriorating since before the birth of Finn. By the time I went to see Dr. Pike, I was in a lot of pain. It took some time for me to finally be ready for the surgery (mentally, schedule-wise and so-on), but afterwards, it was the most relief I’d ever experienced with any surgery.
The shoulder surgery was my first introduction to the hospital that I’d driven past countless times and never given a second thought to. I had such a warm and supportive experience with Dr. Pike that I decided I wouldn’t get any subsequent surgeries done anywhere else, if I could help it.
What will the new hospital and health campus mean for you? And for future patients on a similar journey?
My hope for the new St. Paul’s is that it will be more than a new, fancy building. While that will be amazing, and I look forward to it, it’s the opportunity to change an outdated and ineffective method of delivery of health care that has me the most hopeful.
Dr. Pike speaks about the silos prevalent in the current health care delivery model. But the silos of health care, in my personal experience, are not just found in systems or institutions. For me, a patient with a longstanding and complex chronic condition, silos in care start with how my body is treated. I’m divided into pieces with each joint cared for by a separate surgeon, and lack the real support of someone helping me navigate all of my care across a convoluted system. This should be the responsibility of my family doctor, or rheumatologist, but I often experience bottlenecks, wait lists and a lack of communication that seem to be no one person’s responsibility.
I’m hopeful that St. Paul’s will embrace this opportunity to apply new systems and technological innovations that will support better communication and continuity of care between caregivers and patients. This would to lead to a true team approach to care for patients like me.
Do you have a daily healthy habit? Or what is your favourite exercise activity?
I am pretty unwavering about eating well. By that of course I mean my love of feeding everyone, and my love of cooking, baking, pickling and canning.
I enjoy nature walks with Finn, yoga, Pilates, spin and swimming, and if you want to talk about daily healthy habits, well, I am really working on getting adequate sleep. I’m often woken up by pain, and it does wear on me. Good food and good sleep are something I push for, for my family and myself.
What is your favourite quote?
“A mountain keeps an echo deep inside. That’s how I hold your voice.”
*Originally shared on PHC News