It’s a short trip to Long Ridge

Gabrielle Cormier and Helen Brugger, RN

Gabrielle Cormier shares a light moment with Helen Brugger, RN, before beginning her treatment at the Infusion Center.
(This photograph was taken before the COVID-19 crisis.)

Four years ago, Gabrielle Cormier was diagnosed with Fabry disease, a rare genetic disorder caused by the lack of an essential enzyme.

To combat her symptoms, including severe body aches, fatigue and stomach problems, she began intravenous infusions every two weeks to replace the missing enzyme with genetically engineered enzymes. For more than a year, she drove from her Stamford home to Yale New Haven Hospital for the treatments, a round trip that meant several hours on I-95 and a day off from work. "It was a big pain", she recalled.

Today, Cormier, 27, makes a much shorter drive for each two-hour session to the Long Ridge Medical Center in Stamford, a Greenwich Hospital outpatient facility that features a world-class Infusion Center. "It’s right up the road, five minutes from my house," she said, "so it’s perfect."

Cormier’s journey from pain to perfection exemplifies the convenience, and significance, of the Long Ridge Medical Center. Opened in 2016, it offers a wide range of adult outpatient services delivered by therapists and nurses from Greenwich Hospital, as well as a multidisciplinary team of Yale Medicine physicians trained in lysosomal diseases (such as Fabry), neurology, orthopedics and rheumatology.

Dr. Pramod Mistry, MD, PhD

Pramod Mistry, MD, PhD, often refers patients to the Infusion Center at Long Ridge Medical Center. (This photograph was taken before the COVID-19 crisis.)

"Patients greatly appreciate having easy access to the Infusion Center," said Pramod Mistry, MD, PhD, a Yale Medicine gastroenterologist who treats Cormier and other patients with rare diseases at Long Ridge Medical Center.

In addition to the Infusion Center, Long Ridge provides physical and occupational therapy, laboratory and blood draw services, nutrition counseling, rehabilitation, and diagnostic imaging including ultrasound, bone density, CT scan, MRI and X-ray. "We think of it as a one-stop shop," said Helen Brugger, RN, nurse manager of the Infusion Center. "Patients can see their primary care doctor, have blood drawn, get X-rays and scans, and then have their infusion, all on the second floor of the building. It’s very convenient for people who live in lower Connecticut and the New York metropolitan area who used to go to New Haven."

The Infusion Center is a bright, open area with five stations, each with a plush recliner chair and wraparound curtains for privacy. "We also have a separate room with a bed for patients who can’t sit for long periods or just want to be alone," Brugger said. An infusion can take between a half hour to more than four hours, so patients read, listen to music and surf the web on their mobile devices.

A variety of drug therapies are administered at the Infusion Center, several for people with multiple sclerosis (MS), a central nervous system disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. The MS program is overseen by Sharon Stoll, DO, a Yale Medicine neurologist who sees patients at Long Ridge. Her team comprises a specially trained infusion nurse, a medical assistant and a billing specialist exclusively tasked with handling insurance issues. "With our staff and other specialists in physiatry, orthopedics, nutrition and more, we provide literally the best care possible," she said. "It’s everything I could dream of in an MS center."

Dr. Stoll’s team cares for several hundred MS patients from the surrounding region; many are patients who previously went to Yale New Haven Hospital or to a New York hospital for infusion therapy. Among them is Kathryn Clark, who was officially diagnosed with MS in 2014.

In the early 1980s, Clark started experiencing vision and balance problems associated with the disease, but they subsided for nearly 30 years. "In 2013, the right side of my body started getting a little weaker, and I had difficulty walking and climbing stairs," she said. After an MRI in New York, her neurologist diagnosed Clark with secondary progressive MS, one of four types of the chronic, incurable disease. Every six months for about two years, she was treated with the drug Rituxan at an infusion center in New Jersey. "It was two hours there, six hours for the infusion, then two hours home," said the Stamford resident.

By chance, she read a notice in Health Extensions magazine about an MS support group at the Long Ridge Medical Center, run by Brugger. "I went to one and met Helen. She told me about the Infusion Center, and I’ve been going for a couple of years," Clark said, adding that she meets with Dr. Stoll during each visit. "It takes me seven minutes to get there. The facility is lovely and the staff is terrific."

Multiple sclerosis forced Clark, 65, to retire from her job four years ago, but the infusion therapy has prevented new symptoms from developing. She uses a cane or walker to get around and had her car modified with a left -side accelerator pedal. Now Clark can drive to the Long Ridge Center not only for her biannual infusions, but also for occupational therapy every week and the MS support group, which meets the third Thursday of every month. "We have guest lecturers who talk about topics such as improving coping skills and how to deal with pain without narcotics," Brugger said.

Because MS affects each patient differently, attending the support group is important, Clark said. "I can talk to somebody who may not have exactly the same issues as mine, but they understand. And it’s so wonderful to ask others, ‘What did you do to adjust to this? How did you figure out what that was? Did exercise and diet help?’ Just to have a little bit of camaraderie is wonderful."

Cormier, on the other hand, gains solace right at home: Her father has Fabry, too – inherited from his mother and passed to his daughter – though his experience has been more challenging, said Dr. Mistry, who treats him as well. One silver lining was that his plight ultimately led to his daughter’s diagnosis, and that early intervention should prevent her from developing Fabry’s worst complications, though she still experiences some stomach pain. She is accustomed to the infusion routine, which will continue for the rest of her life.

"I love my nurses at the Infusion Center," Cormier said. "They take very good care of me from the moment I walk in, and they offer me snacks and drinks while I catch up on studies for nursing school. We’ve developed a great relationship. I actually like going there."