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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Our modern day health care hero: Jennifer Jaff

Jennifer Jaff has worked for a decade as an advocate for people with chronic illness while struggling with Crohn’s disease and gastoparesis herself. In her youth, both disorders were not well understood and so Jennifer had to accept a minimal amount of treatment while working hard to graduate from law school. Her illness has played a destructive role in her life. During law school, she would sometimes have to be fed intravenously and let her body heal. She has had countless surgeries, several staph infections, and an autoimmune response to a medication. When her kidneys started to shut down, Jennifer decided to slow down her law career and focus on her health. She started doing this work when she realized she could no longer get to court on a regular basis. She was looking for resources for herself when she found a community filled with innocent victims of diseases who couldn’t get the support they needed for their own struggles.

With her experience in the legal field, Jennifer felt a personal duty to share her knowledge with fellow patients of chronic diseases. She wrote a book called “Know Your Rights,” which helps consumers with health and disability insurance, Social Security disability, employment discrimination, family and medical leave, and educational equality.

The enthusiastic reception of the book allowed Jennifer to start a nonprofit organization called Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illnesses. The organization has flourished over the last 6 years, championing the rights of long-time sufferers of disease and disability. As executive director, Jennifer regularly assists patients in acquiring disability and health insurance and negotiates accommodations for disabled people financially and professionally. She has helped thousands of patients get the treatment they need both through her writings and her organization. She also dedicates her time to providing free information and services to patients who are suffering financially from the steep costs of health care services for pre-existing conditions.

Jennifer is still struggling from her own illness, but it has become a source of motivation to fight tirelessly to save others’ lives. Even though she has to work from home due to the tremendous fatigue and pain from her condition, she feels that it is her personal obligation to spread information and assist the chronically ill. She has spoken at medical conferences across the country, writes a regular newsletter, and updates a blog daily that provides information and insight about health care for all. She has been a faithful supporter of health care reform, and before the bill became law this March, she contacted her legislators, educated consumers, and filed comments from her own perspective as a patient with Crohn’s disease on the regulations that implement reform.

There are countless Americans who give energetic support for health care reform, because like Jennifer, they understand the ethical imperative to protect the lives of other human beings. Jennifer’s work represents the tremendous sacrifices that these supporters must make every day in their personal and professional lives. Jennifer battles both her disease and her exclusion in a system that is imperfect, but in her eyes, a system that is worth protecting through better education and compassion. With the new health care reform provisions, much of Jennifer’s work will be supported by helping patients with pre-existing conditions get coverage and pay for quality treatments. This coverage will empower and motivate all Americans—not just the healthy ones. In Jennifer’s eyes, the work “is glorious. Winning for patients like these often means saving a life. What better use of my law degree could I possibly find?”

Jennifer currently serves as the founder and Executive Director at Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness.