A University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center nurse practitioner dedicated to rehabilitating patients living with the challenges of multiple sclerosis has been named health care professional of the year by the Colorado chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Rae Marie Pericharos, MS, APRN-C, MSCN, is an instructor at the CU School of Medicine and the CU School of Nursing and is a rehabilitator and instructor at the University of Colorado Multiple Sclerosis Center.
Recently, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society honored her for her work with MS patients, her nurse practitioner teaching, and for the MS teaching clinic she holds twice a month at Denver Health Medical Center. The teaching clinic, which debuted four years ago, is supported by the Colorado chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
"Rae has boundless energy and wells of optimism and creativity that enables her to reach patients struggling with the physical and psychological challenges of MS," said Dr. John Corboy, an associate professor of neurology at the CU School of Medicine and Pericharos’ colleague at the CU Multiple Sclerosis Center. "She deserves this recognition and more for the positive impact she’s having on the lives of our patients and students."
Corboy, who also teaches clinics and treats MS patients at Denver Health once a month on top of his other duties, was recognized with the same award two years ago.
When Pericharos and Corboy are not tracking some 800 MS patients at the CU Multiple Sclerosis Center, they teach medical students, residents, fellows and other health care employees the ins and outs of treating MS patients. They instruct them on which medications to prescribe, when to start physical therapy, how to handle drug side effects and case management skills.
Pericharos sees many uninsured patients and often has to pull out her "pocketbook of tricks" to find them a free wheelchair and other needed services.
"It’s all about creativity and getting patients the resources they need so they can have some quality of life," she said.
In 2003, Pericharos, a Montrose native and longtime Fort Collins resident, joined the CU Multiple Sclerosis Center. She received a bachelor of science in nursing at the University of Northern Colorado in 1985, specializing in orthopedic and neurosurgical nursing.
She developed an expertise in the care of patients with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries at North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley. In 1997, she received a master’s degree in nursing from the CU School of Nursing and became a board-certified family nurse practitioner. After a year of working with the homeless and other underserved populations in Fort Collins, she became a spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries expert at Craig Hospital. Pericharos also is a multiple sclerosis certified nurse specialist.
Over the years, Pericharos has coaxed patients into pursuing hobbies they loved before they were diagnosed with MS, and has come up with innovative solutions for younger patients. She once advised a teenage boy with MS to buy a sturdy hiking stick rather than face the embarrassment of a cane to help him maintain his balance while walking.
Her husband, George, became a quadriplegic 25 years ago following a serious car accident, some five years before she met him. Pericharos is certain her life with him has given her insights that have helped her understand her patients’ day-to-day challenges.
MS strikes people in the prime of their lives, usually between the ages of 20 and 50. Women are diagnosed more often than men, and Pericharos is keenly aware that Colorado has one of the highest occurrences of MS in the country. She enjoys working for a teaching hospital, where faculty and staff are open to new ideas and doctors and nurses are caring and nurturing.
"For me, the important thing is to instill in patients hope, creativity and the idea of fostering family relationships and friendship because that’s who’s going to be there for the person in the long haul," Pericharos said. "So, I really like to pull in all the support that I can for the patient."