— Suzanne Groah remembers feeling hopeful when the nurse hurried down the corridor of a Northern Virginia hospital in January 2013 and announced, "Bingo! We have the answer!" For the previous six weeks, Groah's son, Zachary Fox, then 9, had been suffering from excruciating abdominal pain that had defied explanation. Now a test had identified the problem: his malfunctioning gallbladder.
Groah, a physician specializing in spinal cord injury and an associate professor at Georgetown University, had watched with increasing anxiety and helplessness as Zach vomited as often as 50 times a day and doubled over in pain after eating. He had endured test after test, as doctors ruled out a score of ailments including appendicitis, Crohn's disease and C. difficile, a serious bacterial infection.
Groah was guardedly optimistic that Zach's gallbladder was the culprit. A few days earlier, doctors thought they had pinpointed the problem - an ulcer - but medicine had not made any difference. The same would hold true after Zach's gallbladder was removed.
The correct diagnosis would take two additional months, more painful procedures and trips to several hospitals. A pediatric gastroenterologist familiar with the case called it "one of the most complicated I've seen in 30 years." And once the crisis was over, Groah and her husband, Steve Fox, faced another difficult decision.
For Groah, who was at her son's side throughout his months-long ordeal, the experience left emotional scars. "Being a physician and knowing how the system works - and all the ways it doesn't - got us through this exponentially faster," she said. "But it hurt my relationship with a lot of doctors. I think some of them listened less to me because I was perceived as the crazy mom who knew too much." For a while, Groah said, she was so disillusioned, "I really didn't think I'd be able to return to medicine."