In mid-June, Samantha Madala, grade 11, gave a presentation at a meeting of the Endocrine Society held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. The presentation was largely the result of her own experiences with hypothyroidism, an endocrine disorder in which the thyroid gland underperforms and whose symptoms include drowsiness and a lack of focus.
Prior to starting high school, Madala excelled academically. “But when I started high school, I noticed that I had a hard time focusing in class and I always felt tired and withdrawn. My grades were affected too,” she said. “I later found out that my symptoms were caused by hypothyroidism.”
Although relieved that her condition was treatable, Madala was disturbed by the lack of awareness on hypothyroidism and other endocrine disorders. She decided to conduct a study as a first step toward gauging the global awareness of endocrine-related health problems.
Madala and researchers from the University of British Columbia, University of California, Irvine, University of California, Berkeley and the Tufts University School of Medicine created an online survey administered to adults in different age groups and levels of education. “Overall, most survey-takers had very low knowledge of hypothyroidism and other disorders, with the average percentage of correct answers ranging from 15 percent to 45 percent,” Madala said. One of the more surprising finds was that most people surveyed had either completed a college degree or were attending college.
With this data, Madala hopes to eventually make the world aware of endocrine disorders and how they can be treated. “Ultimately, I would like to create solutions to raise awareness of all disorders that can impact learning, and help students reach their academic potential, without having to be held back by health problems,” she said. To this end, she has started a nonprofit organization for students suffering from chronic illnesses. “I believe that children should not have to struggle in school, especially when their problems can be solved with simple, effective treatments.”
She has also begun work on a publication dedicated to the discussion and treatment of pediatric hypothyroidism, featuring useful information on the topic and interviews with medical professionals and patients.