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Dealing with her daughter's illness inspired Kim to go to university

Kim Novis with daughters Sienna and Shanice

When her daughter fell dangerously ill, Kim Novis took it upon herself to learn as much as she could about her daughter’s condition – and began a journey that will ultimately be of enormous benefit to other sick children.

The 31-year-old from Brighton graduates today (10 July 2013) with a degree in Biomedical Science and already has funding to carry on developing her research into why children have difficulties in taking medication for chronic illnesses.

At the age of two Kim’s youngest daughter Sienna was diagnosed and treated for  Gradenigo’s syndrome, a serious and potentially life-threatening complication related to infections of the middle ear. Following several months of treatment, Sienna, now aged eight, was cured.

But Kim, who also has a 13-year-old daughter, Shanice, had spent so much time in the hospital and in libraries researching Sienna’s condition that she realised this was the area in which she wanted to work. “I was a bookkeeper and had begun training to become an accountant before I had Sienna,” she says.  “I was forced to give up work when Sienna was ill, but after I started looking into health issues I couldn’t see myself doing anything other than healthcare work. I realised the more I learned the more I wanted to know.”

Kim, who is the first in her family to go to university, took an access course before applying to Sussex. “When I was a child I wanted to be a doctor, but no one in my family had done anything like that, and I didn’t know anyone who did.”

For her dissertation, Kim began looking at paediatric patients’ non-adherence to medication regimens, which cost the health service about £150m a year in wasted medication.  Although surveys existed for establishing why adults failed to follow doctors’ prescriptions, little was known about the circumstances for children, even though one in five of them suffer from chronic illnesses.

So Kim and clinicians in London used an existing iPad app and developed a patient survey aimed at children. With the assistance of health professionals at the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London, she piloted the study. Her results showed that children were reluctant to take regular medication for several reasons, including the social stigma of being seen as “different” to others. She also found that those without a greater social support for their illness from friends and schools were less likely to take medication.

Kim will now continue her work with funding from  Guy’s and St Thomas’ Healthcare Trust. She is also hoping to continue with a Masters degree in child health.

“When Sienna was ill, one of her doctors said to me there would be a silver lining,” she says. “ And this is it. A world has opened up to me, with so many doors. I hope that my work will lead to better education and interventions for those children who are ill and also for the clinicians in treating them.”

By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Tuesday, 2 July 2013