Meet our staff

Dr. N. Karen Thames

Founder and Executive Director of The EPIC Foundation

Dr. N. Karen Thames, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

 

Dr. N. Karen Thames graduated with her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in 2005. She worked primarily in the private practice setting with specializations in trauma, women’s issues, marital therapy, and chronic illness. Dr. Karen offered therapy to individuals, families and couples. She very much so viewed her profession as a fulfillment of her God given purpose in life.

 

Several years ago, Karen began having symptoms that could not be explained including unexplained rapid weight gain, muscle weakness, memory loss, and the sudden onset of diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension. She even became completely bedridden. After being increasingly ill for over five years, Karen discovered that she had Cushing’s Disease after watching a Cushing’s episode on the Discovery Channel show, Mystery Diagnosis. She had fought so hard to get an explanation about what was wrong to no avail. However, after discovering she had the same symptoms as the Cushing’s patient on Mystery Diagnosis, Karen asked her local endocrinologist to start testing her. With hesitation, he finally agreed, and she did, in fact have Cushing’s Disease. Dr. Thames sought treatment from a team of specialists in Seattle, WA at the Seattle Pituitary Center because of their expertise and on November 16, 2011, she had life changing brain surgery in which a tumor was removed from the left side of her pituitary.

 

After one year of remission after brain surgery, Karen learned that Cushing’s was back. A recurrence of Cushing’s was confirmed by several more months of testing. After weighing all available options, Karen moved forward with having a Bilateral Adrenalectomy on August 21st, 2013, in which both of her adrenal glands (which sit on top of the kidneys) were removed. This was her cure, finally, from Cushing’s Disease! Now, Karen is left with a lifetime of adrenal insufficiency. As a result of the Bilateral Adrenalectomy, Karen is steroid dependent for life and must follow strict maintenance in order to avoid adrenal crises, which can lead to a fatality. However, beating Cushing’s, though a difficult decision, made this choice worth it. Karen currently has ties to both the Cushing’s and Addison’s communities.

 

Dr. Karen has become a strong voice in the Cushing’s community. With the goal of spreading awareness and encouraging empowerment; she has assumed the role as a Cushing’s patient advocate. Karen has the goal of shedding light on this rare illness that is diagnosed in 1-3 of every million people.

 

Karen speaks to the needs of those surviving chronic illness and posts educational videos to address the emotional processes of those living with a chronic illness. These videos also include answers to the “Ask Dr. Karen” series where Dr. Karen answers various viewers’ questions on issues related to chronic illness. These can be found on: http://www.youtube.com/drnkarenthames

 

Dr. Karen is the Executive Producer along with CoProducer and director filmmaker, Marc Harris, on the feature length film, Cushing’s Documentary: “Battleground Diagnosis: The War to Survive Cushing’s Disease/Syndrome”. Dr. Karen Thames felt inspired to use her skills to give back to the community that has given so much to her. She believes in the power of connectedness and community and has been proud to be named an advocate in the chronic illness community! Thus, she founded The EPIC Foundation!

 

Together, WE are EPIC!!!

 

Dr. Karen can be reached via e mail at drkarenthames@epictogether.org or phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 700 Toll Free

Carolyn Pilgrom

Senior Director of Operations

Carolyn lives in Buffalo, NY with her husband and 2 cats. She works fulltime as a Workforce Analyst for a cloud services company based in Silicon Valley and spends her free time exploring the world of food through her exotic meat private chef service. She is also an avid advocate for small business and consults startups through business planning, funding, and financial forecasting.

 

Carolyn was diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease in 2009 and had her first of two pituitary surgeries that same year. She went on to have her adrenal glands removed before being declared cured from Cushing’s and began her life as an Addison’s patient. She has been an active part of the Cushing’s community since first self-diagnosing herself from a House MD episode. She has helped to educate many about self-advocating with doctors and pushing through until resolution. Carolyn is excited to be a part of EPIC as a means to continue to educate and campaign for those with life altering chronic illness.

 

The EPIC Foundation is proud to announce Carolyn Pilgrom as Senior Director of Operations! Carolyn oversees The EPIC Foundation staff, including all EPIC directors, specialists, and volunteers. She is the glue that helps to sustain our mission and our dedication to our patients.

 

Carolyn can be reached via e mail at carolyn@epictogether.org or phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 703 Toll Free

Jenifer Williams

Director of Patient & Caregiver Support

 

The EPIC Foundation is proud to announce Jenifer Williams as our Director of Patient and Caregiver Support! Jenifer started with EPIC volunteering as a patient advocate and less than one year later, Jenifer accepted a position as the Director of Patient and Caregiver Support! She leads an amazing team of devoted and enthusiastic advocates for patients and their loved ones, all volunteering their time and all of them are chronic illness warriors themselves! Jenifer is the glue that holds this special team together!

 

Jenifer Williams is a certified dental assistant with a background in medical/dental and criminal justice. She has a very eclectic background including being involved in social media and website design and maintenance. Her medical background, as well as her own journey as a chronic illness warrior, also allows her to see things from a unique lens.

 

Jenifer lives in Bear Lake, PA (Warren County) with her husband, two children, and 3 dogs. They enjoy living out in the country! Every year they grow a garden and they even started raising chickens so that they can have their own fresh eggs. They are also fortunate enough to have a small piece of a national natural landmark, Tamarack Swamp, right in their backyard. http://docs.dcnr.pa.gov/cs/groups/public/documents/document/dcnr_20032479.pdf

 

Jenifer and her family love getting to see the abundant wildlife from their deck or kitchen window, including bald eagles, ducks & geese galore, bear, deer, fishers, and all kinds of other critters!

 

Jenifer first became diagnosed in 2014. However, she began putting pieces of the puzzle together and traced the disease back to its first visible manifestation in her body at age 17 (1995). By the time she was officially diagnosed at age 36, she knew very little about the disease and wanted to find a way to help others who were like her. However, there was a long journey up to that point in her life…
Jenifer was always bigger than most girls her age as she was growing up, but she was by no means obese. However, once she turned 17, she had been through a few spurts of excessive and unexplained weight gain. She also had the classic Cushing’s buffalo hump at the base of her neck, which she, at that time, attributed to poor posture. Over the next 5 years, Jenifer continued to gain weight and experience health problems such as hypothyroidism and high blood pressure. By 2007, she had been married for 4 years and had 2 beautiful children. In 2010, Jenifer went back to school and became a dental assistant. By this time, her health issues were on the rise and now included hirsutism, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, edema, extreme fatigue, and moodiness. Over the next few years, she found that she was very bulky, bruised easily, and had bouts of what she jokingly referred to as “Incredible Hulk Syndrome” – where she felt like the most powerful person on the face of the earth, then crashed hard later on. By 2013, she was told she also had fatty liver disease and acute glaucoma.

 

After seeing over 13 doctors and specialists, as well as contemplating bariatric surgery and a breast reduction, she had seen more than her fair share of disappointments. She began to do pretty lengthy research and came to the conclusion that it was very possible that she had Cushing’s disease. With each of these medical professionals, she asked about Cushing’s and was laughed at, deemed manic and even bribed with “magic pills by one endocrinologist. Jenifer sadly felt herself “slipping away”. In March 2014, Jenifer took her case to Cleveland Clinic and by June 1, 2014; she had a confirmed diagnosis by MRI after undergoing months of rigorous testing. Jenifer’s 5x4x3mm pituitary tumor was removed on August 18, 2014. She is currently in successful remission.

 

Recovery has not been easy. Since the surgery, Jenifer has experienced a 6th nerve palsy which caused her to be cross-eyed for almost a month post-op. She has also since had a hysterectomy that was followed by a severe infection that put her through a 2nd surgery to remove the necrotic tissue and was sent home on wound vac care for 5 weeks. During this time, her sweet dear uncle – Sam Angilella – who was like a father to her, passed away due to heart failure. This was all within her first year of remission. In 2017, Jenifer underwent sinus surgery after unsuccessful treatments of chronic staph infections in her sinuses. In addition, she has dealt with depression. She also has struggled to lose weight and regain energy and muscle strength. Jenifer says that it gets better with each year but that she is still searching for her new “normal.”

 

Even with everything that Jenifer has been through, she says that getting involved with Dr. Karen and The EPIC Foundation has been so uplifting and wonderful for her and gives her a purpose!

 

Jenifer says that her role model is Dr. Karen, Founder and Executive Director of The EPIC Foundation: “Her inner and outer light, dedication to the chronic illness community through The EPIC Foundation, and perseverance to rise above her own battles with chronic illness inspire me to always do my best! She is a phoenix!!! If not for her mentoring and support, I wouldn’t have as great of a purpose to be of service, and I feel so blessed to call her my friend.”

 

Within The EPIC Foundation, aside from Dr. Karen Thames, Jenifer works closely with Mary Daily (Director of Outreach) and Ashley Laxton (Director of Social Media). She says that they are a constant source of motivation and help stir up her creativity! Jenifer is also inspired by co-worker, Janine Gilbert, who is the Senior Editor and Creative Consultant for The EPIC Foundation. Jenifer also leads a devoted and enthusiastic team of advocate volunteers. Jenifer describes them as responsive and supportive. She says that she looks forward to growing that amazing team!

 

Outside of The EPIC Foundation, Jenifer’s husband and kids show her so much support and encouragement for her involvement as Director of Patient and Caregiver Support. They take great interest in her role!

 

The EPIC Foundation is beyond blessed and thrilled to have Jenifer Williams as their Director of Patient and Caregiver Support!

 

Jenifer Williams can be reached via email at jenifer@epictogether.org or via phone at 888-862-5554 Ext.707.

 

Together we are EPIC!

David Vernier

Director of Website and Business Data

The EPIC Foundation is proud to announce David Vernier as the Director of Website and Business Data. David Vernier received his BS in Interactive & Social Media from DePaul University in Chicago in the summer of 2017.  In his role at The EPIC Foundation, David maintains the website which is a vital part of the organization and he manages databases and other related business affairs.

 

Aside from his role at EPIC, David is currently expanding his design skill set at the Digital Youth Network as a designer with a wide range of responsibilities. One of his responsibilities includes working closely with Evanston middle school and elementary school teachers and students to better understand their needs and help them use DYN’s code65.org platform. David enjoys mentoring youth.

 

David is skilled in Adobe products. He has mastery in design and information technology. The EPIC Foundation is honored to have such an amazing individual on staff!

 

David can be reached by e mail at david@epictogether.org or by phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 720

Dr. Tanya Warren, Pharm.D.

Pharmaceutical Liaison

Dr. Tanya Warren is the Pharmaceutical Liaison for The EPIC Foundation.  We are honored and proud to have such an amazing asset to our Staff! The Pharmaceutical Liaison plays a very instrumental role to our foundation.  Our Pharmaceutical Liaison helps us maintain a collaborative relationship with our medical networks and professionals, pharmaceutical companies, and other professionals who are interested in helping us with our mission and serving the chronic illness community. Our pharmaceutical liaison also engages in academic research that will benefit our members.

 

Dr. Warren obtained her Doctorate in Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2004. She has extensive experience as a Pharmacist in the hospital setting and comes to us with a unique understanding of the chronic illness population.  Personally, Dr. Warren is a survivor of a rare life threatening illness called Cushing’s Disease. She understands the value of self-advocacy and has fought, tirelessly, for her own health!

 

Dr. Warren is a member of The EPIC Foundation and wants to make a significant contribution to other members and to the chronic illness community! She is an invaluable asset to the foundation!

 

Dr. Tanya Warren can be reached by e mail at tanya@epictogether.org or via phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 721

Dr. Kimberly Kerley, Psy.D

Author of “The Good News” &
Psychologist Consultant
Dr. Kimberly Kerley, Psy.D, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Illinois. She has been practicing in a group practice setting for over 15 years. Dr. Kerley is currently seeing clients at Perakis, Resis, Woods, and Associates (PRA Behavioral), a multidisciplinary group practice in Schaumburg, IL. Dr. Kerley’s theoretic approach incorporates cognitive behavioral, insight oriented and solution focused techniques while tailoring to the individual needs of each client. She focuses on assisting clients to build upon their strengths, develop unused resources and learn new skills to decrease symptoms, increase their effectiveness in managing their everyday lives and/or improve their quality of life. Dr. Kerley’s treatment approach is interactive, supportive and respectful to the individual and is presented in the spirit of collaboration. Dr. Kerley works with adults and adolescents. Her treatment areas of focus include Depression, Bipolar and other Mood Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Stress Management, Relaxation Skills Training, Self-Esteem Issues, Assertiveness Training, Relationship Issues, Personal Exploration and Development, and Chronic Illness.Dr. Kerley is very invested in supporting those who are chronic illness warriors and their loved ones. She strives to change lives effectively and positively through her direct and invaluable advice through her “Good News” column in The EPIC Foundation newsletter. She is also a consultant for The EPIC Foundation and sits on the Mental Health Advisory Board to promote addressing the relevant concerns of the chronic illness community.The EPIC Foundation is beyond proud to have Dr. Kim Kerley as a part of our team! Together, we are EPIC!

ShaRita Alexander

Event Coordinator

Born and raised in Evanston, IL, an accomplished educator and entrepreneur.  ShaRita is the founder of Life’s Little Buttons: Where Attention to Detail Matters, LLC.

After completing her educational career at National-Louis University and Concordia University, ShaRita’s passion for events, people and education led her to the entrepreneur sector. Prior to devoting herself to her business full-time, she worked, planned, and consulted on events in several different states landing back home in Illinois.

ShaRita’s gifts of personalization, organization, creative imagination and attention to detail, have earned her a reputation of excellence as an event planner and organizer. ShaRita will execute your concepts flawlessly while maintaining a pleasant, calm and helpful demeanor to ensure an amazing experience for you and your guests.

ShaRita believes in giving back to the community on her own and through her sororities, Delta Sigma Theta, and Delta Kappa Gamma. She lives for volunteering, sponsorship and creating standards of excellence and raising the bar of professionalism.

In her spare time, ShaRita enjoys being a sister and an auntie. The EPIC Foundation is proud and honored to have ShaRita Alexander as their Event Coordinator!

ShaRita can be reached via e mail at sharita@epictogether.org or phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 711 Toll Free

Volunteer Staff

Michelle Kelley

Lead Patient and Caregiver Advocate

 

Michelle Kelley lives in Jonesborough, TN. She is the mom of two amazing boys, Tony and Trevor. She has an Early Childhood Degree and taught for several years at a local private school. The last six years, she has Homeschooled her boys and enjoys the one on one time with them. Michelle is very active in her church. She is a firm believer in her faith. Her life words are, “BUT GOD.” She desires for her life to be a light for Jesus and to encourage others that battle chronic illnesses to live “one step at a time.”

Michelle was diagnosed with PCOS at the age of 20. She does believe Cushing’s was probable at this time, but not mentioned. For two years she underwent fertility treatments, to only be told she was “too fat” to have a baby, and when she “decided to put food down and stop being lazy,” she would get pregnant. Michelle describes these years as being the “loneliest” of all. She felt shamed and disgraced by doctors and yet her heart knew something more was the cause of her issues. Although Michelle never experienced carrying a baby in her body, God gave her exactly what she needed thru Adoption!

At the age of 40, Michelle’s health began to rapidly decline. She was working out with a personal trainer and yet her weight began to climb rapidly. Panic attacks and anxiety negatively impacted her ability to function. Her blood pressure was severely dangerous, white count level off the charts, headaches and joint pain almost unbearable, along with a list of other things. She began months of testing with Oncologist and Infectious Disease Doctors to just hit dead ends. She was finally sent to an Endocrinologist in NC who would change her life. After 6 months of testing she was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease.

She was referred to the University of VA in Charolletsville, Va. There she met her team of Endocrinologists and Neurosurgeons who took excellent care of her. Within 24-48 hours of surgery, her cortisol levels plummeted to a negative 2. “I thought I was dying,” was how she described this time of her life. From the moment she woke up from surgery, she began to throw up. Everything she would put in her mouth, automatically came back up, and would continue that way for almost five years. She was eventually diagnosed with a mild form of Achalasia and no treatment possible for her at the time.

Two years ago, Michelle met Dr. Chatman a local chiropractor in her area. “Chiropractic care gave me my life back” she says. “Dr. B encouraged me to not give up. To start out with small goals and just keep moving”. He also introduced her to the Keto lifestyle of eating. It was there she finally found a life with very little throwing up. What an Amazing change!!! She has begun to lose more weight and overall feels she can handle what life throws at her.

Michelle’s words to those diagnosed with Cushing’s or in the process of trying to get a diagnosis… “DO NOT GIVE UP! Be your own advocate. You know your body better than anyone else. Do not settle for a life of hopelessness. Breathe. Take each step one at a time. Do not let anyone steal your Joy. And of course, rely on Jesus. Your day may not turn out how you planned but find one positive thing a day, and you will soon see Joy in many more days!”

“BUT GOD!”

The EPIC Foundation is proud to have Michelle on our team as our Lead patient and caregiver advocate! As such, Michelle is the right hand to our Director, Jenifer Williams. Michelle helps to lead our team of advocates with a special interest in the spiritual growth of those living with chronic illness and their families. You can count on Michelle with words of encouragement every single day! We are grateful to be blessed by her leadership skills and gifts and are honored to have her!

Michelle Kelley can be reached via e mail at michelle@epictogether.org or phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 708 Toll Free

Together, We are EPIC!

Laura Bravo

Patient & Caregiver Advocate

Spanish Speaking Advocate

 

Laura Bravo was born and raised in Cuba. At the age of 13, she was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and had her first pituitary surgery a year after. She and her family moved to Miami, Florida when she was 15 years old. She had a recurrence of the tumor months after she moved and her pediatric endocrinologist at the University of Miami referred her to NIH to have a second surgery. After 4 years feeling like new, Laura started to have high levels of cortisol again, but this time no tumor was seen on the MRI. Laura is right now under medications and waiting to have a third surgery.

 

Even though it’s been hard for Laura to handle her disease and her school at the same time, she has never given up on her dream of becoming a doctor. Laura is working towards a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology from Florida International University. She is hoping to get into medical school and become a Pediatric Endocrinologist so she can help kids that have gone through her same condition at such an early age.

 

Laura has always wanted to help people with chronic conditions. She knows how important it is for those people to feel that they are not alone. She started a blog in order to create awareness about chronic and invisible illness and to educate people on this matter. Thanks to this blog, she met The EPIC Foundation team and fell in love with their work. Laura is very grateful to be a part of this organization and hope that with her knowledge and experiences, she can change the lives of many people.    

 

Laura can be reached via email at laura@epictogether.org or via phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 723.  Together we are EPIC!

Erin Gallagher

Patient & Caregiver Advocate

Erin Gallagher currently resides in Cincinnati, Ohio with her wife and three dogs. She is eager to finally begin her lifelong soul mission, which is to help others and offer love and support throughout life’s challenges. Erin is a Cushing’s Disease and Addison’s Disease warrior. After having two failed pituitary surgeries and bilateral adrenalectomy, Erin battled hard to become the new her. Her passion is to educate others about the struggles in finding a diagnosis and about the challenges Cushing’s Disease and Addison’s Disease warriors face. She is currently doing this as a volunteer for The EPIC Foundation as a patient and caregiver advocate!

 

She graduated from the University of Dayton with a degree in psychology and communication and has a well-versed career in the dental field, provider relations/credentialing and business management. You will find her to be the perfect blend of strength with a heart of gold. She will help you find the new you on your journey as well as be your loyal support.

 

In her free time, you will find Erin living life to the fullest. She loves hiking on trails and loves being outdoors. Even though Erin has Addison’s Disease, she does not let that stop her from leading a normal life. She wants to help others be able to do the same. One of the quotes that Erin lives by is, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Erin can be reached via email at erin@epictogether.org or phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 715 Toll-Free

 

Elizabeth Grenon

Patient & Caregiver Advocate

Elizabeth Grenon lives in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada with her husband and three dogs. If you ever watched the TV show Gold Rush, Dawson is the place that they refer to as the Klondike.

 

She was diagnosed with Cyclical Cushing’s in 2008 and has since had two failed pituitary surgeries and a CSF leak that caused meningitis, a bilateral adrenalectomy (Addison’s Disease), Rapid Arc Radiation (similar to gamma knife radiation) and after everything is currently diagnosed with Nelson’s Syndrome.

 

She is excited to have the opportunity to help and support people in the way she was helped during her ongoing battle with Cushing’s. Through all her struggles she was able to connect with other people just like her, people who could truly empathize with her and what she was going through and she wants to pay that forward.

 

One of her favorite quotes that has helped her keep moving forward and knowing that everything happens for a reason is by Wayne Dyer;

 

“Each place along the way is somewhere you had to be in order to be here.”

 

Elizabeth can be reached via e mail at elizabeth@epictogether.org or phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 709 Toll Free

Kim Quinn

Patient & Caregiver Advocate

The EPIC Foundation proudly announces Kim Quinn as a Patient and Caregiver Advocate! The role of the patient and caregiver advocate involves providing support to patients with chronic illness as well as caregivers.

 

Kim belongs to a team that makes calls to patients, responds to written correspondences, and promotes advocacy to patients who want to thrive with chronic illness! Kim is just a phone call away and is committed to providing the kind of support that she has sought throughout her own journey. This team is also available to caregivers who seek support from our foundation!

 

Kim, herself, has had a long battle with a rare life-threatening illness, called Cushing’s disease. She has done everything in her power to self-advocate, self-empower, and get an adequate diagnosis and treatment. Kim seeks to increase awareness of Cushing’s and is passionate about being a part of a team that provides adequate support and helps others advocate for themselves.

 

Kim can be reached via e mail at kim@epictogether.org or phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 719 Toll Free. Together, We are EPIC!

Brittany Wisowaty

Intern

 

Brittany Wisowaty is currently an intern with The EPIC Foundation. She is 17 years old, but at the age of 12 she was diagnosed with several invisible chronic illnesses and was put in intensive treatment. Today Brittany is an advocate for teens and children with chronic illnesses. She not only works with The EPIC Foundation but has her own charity “Brittany’s Blankets” in which she sews blankets and personally delivers gifts to terminally and chronically ill children all over Illinois.

 

Brittany’s life, although difficult, has never gotten in the way of her goals and aspirations. She is currently a junior in high school, where she was voted class sophomore president as well as the student of the month on several occasions. She is deeply committed to becoming a social worker and looks forward to earning first her bachelors and then receiving her MSW. She hopes to one day own an Equine Therapy Treatment facility for adolescents with debilitating mental illnesses.

 

Brittany can be reached via email at brittany@epictogether.org or by phone at (888) 862-5554 Ext. 704. Together we are EPIC!

Rohnda McCloskey, RN, MSN, LSN

Patient and Caregiver Advocate

 

Rohnda is a Registered Nurse in Ohio. She has practiced nursing in pediatrics for over 20 years and is a licensed school nurse as well. Her daughter is a strong PANDAS warrior and Rohnda herself battled Cushing’s disease for 20 years and now is left without adrenal glands to cure Cushing’s so she battles Adrenal insufficiency every single day.

 

Rohnda advocates for PANDAS/PANS and works legislatively to advocate in her state for PANDAS/PANS awareness and for healthcare coverage of treatments. She also runs a facebook support group: PANDAS & PANS ADVOCACY IN SCHOOLS. She enjoys helping all patients with chronic illness/rare disease and helping them to stay strong, advocate for themselves, and to keep fighting chronic illness!

 

Rohnda is married, has 3 children, and 3 dogs. You will find her swimming, going for a leisurely walk with her dogs, or going to garage/yard sales. Rohnda is sarcastic, yet caring and loves to make people laugh. She loves to help her daughter and other chronic illness warriors understand that we own our diseases; our diseases do not own us. She believes that anyone with a chronic illness/rare disease can be fabulous, beautiful, and a productive member of society and feel important and valued.

 

The EPIC Foundation is proud to have Rohnda on our team as a patient and caregiver advocate!

 

Rohnda McCloskey can be reached via e mail at rohnda@epictogether.org or phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 710 Toll Free

 

Together, we are EPIC!