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Global Adult Down Syndrome Clinic Provides Critical Resources and Medical Care for Adults with Down Syndrome

February 1, 2021

Michelle Sie Whitten, co-founder and CEO of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation (Global), is on a mission to ensure that all people with Down syndrome receive the care and attention they deserve to live a long, purposeful life.

It’s a mission that aligns with the work of Denver Health and the Denver Health Foundation and furthers the Foundation’s vision to provide transformational, sustainable change to all members of our community.

Since Global began in 2009, Michelle and her team have successfully increased the funding available for research and have developed centers of excellence for the treatment and care of Down syndrome. As a Denver resident, she also partnered with Children’s Hospital Colorado to launch a clinic for local and out-of-state children with the condition. The clinic has had tremendous success, yet Michelle recognized a gap in continuity of care occurring when adult patients phased out of the program and no longer knew where to go for treatment.

Michelle turned to Dr. Simon Hambidge, Chief Ambulatory Care Officer at Denver Health, with an idea to launch a pilot clinic with a two-fold objective: to provide primary care treatment for adult patients with Down syndrome and to explore the sustainability of an adult clinic model. She felt confident that Denver Health and Dr. Hambidge were the best partners to invest in this project.

“Denver Health is known for treating vulnerable populations and a lot of people would consider adults with Down syndrome a vulnerable population,” Michelle said. “Denver Health embraces people who have Down syndrome and they have a great track record for treatment, which was very attractive to us.”

Expert treatment and care for patients with Down syndrome is vital to their overall well-being as they are likely to experience a variety of illnesses, including thyroid disease, diabetes, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hearing loss, and Alzheimer’s disease. A complicating factor is that they may not exhibit signs of pain, leading to misdiagnoses from medical providers, if they are not well-educated on the disorder.

“Down syndrome is a condition that can impact multiple organs and can have different manifestations and changes both psychologically and physically,” said Dr. Hambidge. “One of the reasons life expectancy has increased for those with Down syndrome is that we know a lot more about best practices now. They are a vulnerable population and a complex one, but one that we know with best practices you can really change the course of a life.”

Since the Denver Health pilot clinic was approved in 2018, it has been used to explore and gather data regarding the benefits and challenges associated with establishing a world-class medical center for adults with Down syndrome. Additionally, the pilot clinic provides opportunities for Denver Health physicians to engage in clinical and basic research – increasing the medical field’s understanding of the condition while also providing excellent and compassionate care to patients and their families.

Later this year, staff from Global and Denver Health will come together to explore the potential to turn this pilot into a permanent, long-term clinic for primary care and research – an objective that both Michelle and Dr. Hambidge are eager to see come to fruition.

“I would love to see this clinic grow to become a true resource on a population level for adults with Down syndrome, not just in Denver, but as a regional center,” Dr. Hambidge said.

“It would be a dream come true,” Michelle agreed.

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