Meet our staff

Dr. N. Karen Thames

Founder and Executive Director of The EPIC Foundation

Dr. Karen is inspired to be a voice for the voiceless. As a warrior in this battle, she realized how we can feel like we do not have a voice and that no one is listening. It can be quite traumatic!

Several years ago, Dr. Karen made the decision not to return to private practice. She began putting the ideas of an organization on her vision board.

In 2011, Dr. Karen said, “I want to encourage others to fight for their lives and to never give up.” During this time, Dr. Karen didn’t even know if she would be alive the next day, let alone if she would be able to live up to this declaration. However, she had a dream and visualized this dream every single day. She knew that it would be EPIC!

Today, that dream has come into manifestation! Dr. Karen is thrilled and excited to be a voice for those who feel that they do not have a voice! She was once told that visualization is ten times more powerful than willpower! She always had the will to start a nonprofit! The VISION, though, is the reason why she finally gave birth to The EPIC Foundation! She always says that she started The EPIC Foundation “with just a laptop and a dream!”

Dr. Karen is the Executive Producer on the Cushing’s documentary film series: “Battleground Stories: The Indomitable Fight of Cushing’s Warriors”. She 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 is proud to be an advocate! Dr. Karen also has a series of educational videos on YouTube both on her personal channel here: http://www.youtube.com/drnkarenthames and on the foundation’s YouTube Channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSctRmcwpIf-ohwS8dLiycw?view_as=subscriber

Dr. Karen has also used her platform to increase awareness of Cushing’s disease and to encourage others with her story. She felt fortunate to interview f or CUTV News Radio with Doug Llewelyn (from the People’s Court and Co-Creator of Judge Judy) for their empowered women’s series.

This is the link to the first interview: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/closeupradio/2019/10/23/cutv-news-radio-spotlights-dr-n-karen-thames-psyd-of-the-epic-foundation

This is Dr. Karen’s second interview with Doug Llewelyn: https://www.blogtalkradio.com/closeupradio/2019/12/11/cutv-news-radio-welcomes-back-dr-n-karen-thames-psyd-of-the-epic-foundation

Additionally, Dr. Karen has been named an influencer and recognized by various prestigious organizations. Her Alma mater, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, honored Dr. Karen for her continued advocacy of chronic illness warriors and caregivers in this article: https://www.thechicagoschool.edu/insight/for-our-wellness/from-private-practice-to-advocate-for-the-chronically-ill/

Dr. Karen was acknowledged, by the International Association of Women (IAW) and by their spokesperson Star Jones, as an influencer, which was a high honor: http://business.dailytimesleader.com/dailytimesleader/news/read/38821781/international-association-of-women-recognizes-dr-n-karen-thames-as-a

Dr. Karen is immensely grateful for every opportunity to achieve her vision of helping chronic illness warriors and their loved ones.

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

 

 

Mary Pidgeon

Director of Advocacy

Mary Pidgeon is our Director of Advocacy.  She resides in Skaneateles, New York with their youngest daughter, Julianna, who suffers from a host of chronic illnesses.

 

Mary has been employed in the healthcare care sector for over 30 years. She has many years of experience in leadership roles at local hospitals, Home Care and large health insurance companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and National Government Services, a sub-contractor for CMS. During her tenure, she has honed her skills in all of the non-clinical areas of healthcare. She understands the complex issues patients experience from finding the right doctor to obtaining insurance authorizations and dissecting a bill for services performed. She has expertise mentoring employees, managing large teams and building policies and procedures to ensure operational expectations are satisfied. 

 

Mary has personal experience as a patient advocate and shares our mission to help those with chronic illness. Since her youngest daughter was a child she has been fighting to understand various symptoms she exhibited. At 6 years old, her daughter Julianna had extreme neck pain that was dismissed as stress. By 6th grade, she had chronic stomach pain and nausea. Fast forward to today, they are challenged with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Hashimotos, MALS and more. Mary’s personal experience with her daughter has opened her heart to knowing that she wants to serve others that battle the healthcare system because of chronic illness. Being part of The EPIC Foundation will give her the platform to do exactly that. 

 

In her free time, Mary loves to spend time with her family and travel wherever they are. She is an avid Baker and loves to be outdoors. She has faith in God and knows her journey is to serve others and to share joy.

 

We are so thankful that Mary is a member of our team!

 

Mary Pidgeon can be reached via e mail at marypidgeon@epictogether.org or phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 705 Toll Free

 

Together, We are EPIC!

 

Lauren Hoppenrath

Fundraising Liaison

Lauren completed her Bachelor of Science in Public Health at Northern Illinois University with an emphasis In health promotion and minor in Family, Consumer, and Nutrition Sciences. At NIU, she was the President of NIU Forensics: Speech and debate and advocated at tournaments across the nation about pressing public health topics including chronic pain. As The EPIC Foundation’s fundraising liaison, Lauren will be utilizing her skills from the Public Health curriculum as well as her communication and writing skills to earn funding for EPIC.

Aside from her role as fundraising liaison, she works in Provider Services at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois. She also works with the Community Outreach department of Advocate Christ Medical Center in partnership with March4Meg: Step up to Stop Melanoma.

As a chronic pain sufferer, Lauren stumbled upon the EPIC Foundation and our mission stuck with her. She wanted to be part of an organization that focused on empowerment to a community that (from her personal experiences) may sometimes be dismissed or lost in the shuffle. Lauren is looking forward to working with the EPIC Foundation and learning more about herself and others through this journey.

 

The EPIC Foundation is extremely proud to have Lauren as our Fundraising Liaison! Lauren can be reached via e-mail at lauren@epictogether.org or phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 724 Toll Free

 

Together, we are EPIC!

Chanelle F. Curtis

Director of Health Administration Services

 

Chanelle was raised by her mother and father (a Special Education teacher, and retired Marine and Social Worker, respectively) in the small town of Stafford, VA. From a very young age, Chanelle led an energetic and active lifestyle that included activities such as dance, gymnastics, and cheerleading, as well as a love for academics. In 2006, at the age of 16, Chanelle suddenly began to experience a slew of unusual symptoms ranging from uncontrollable weight gain, chronic fatigue, mood swings, extreme emotional distress, muscle wasting, insomnia, acne, and hair loss—to name a few. The sudden onslaught of strange medical symptoms rapidly began to affect every aspect of her life including her grades, her ability to remain in any extracurricular activities, and her emotional stability.

After many months of unsuccessful consultations with various Pediatric PCPs about her condition, Chanelle took to the Internet to investigate her symptoms. Because she had hardly ever experienced such unusual health issues in her short life, she began compiling a running log of the daily changes in her weight, mood, and other strange symptoms. It wasn’t until Chanelle stumbled upon an episode of Mystery Diagnosis that covered one woman’s experience with Cushing’s disease was she finally able to put a definition to the seemingly random symptoms she had been experiencing for almost a year. With that knowledge, Chanelle was able to advocate for her right to be seen by a Pediatric Endocrinologist, who was quickly able to identify that she indeed displayed classic symptomology of Cushing’s disease. After weeks’ worth of cortisol testing and a 7 mm benign tumor was found on her pituitary gland following an MRI, Chanelle was officially diagnosed with primary Cushing’s disease at the age of 17.

After her diagnosis followed the first unsuccessful transphenoidal (“through-the-nose”) resection of her pituitary tumor at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 2007, which occurred during the first months of her senior year of high school. However, Chanelle still managed to recover in time to graduate with Honors in 2008. The next year (2009), she underwent yet another unsuccessful brain surgery at Hopkins, which left her with little choice but to have both adrenal glands removed to reverse the Cushing’s completely in 2011. Once finally free of Cushing’s following her Bilateral Adrenalectomy (BLA), Chanelle was able to begin the next chapter of her life with the new—yet much more manageable—chronic condition of Addison’s disease at 19 years old, which she has controlled since then with daily oral steroid hormones, and other hormonal replacement pharmaceuticals. Despite the deterioration of her health, Chanelle continued her schooling and earned her Associates of Science and General Education Certificate from Germanna Community College in 2012.

Along the way, Chanelle participated in a Cushing’s study at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and had her case anonymously published in a medical journal to further scientific understanding of Cushing’s disease. As a precautionary measure, Chanelle also underwent a round of CyberKnife Radiation Therapy to control any continued growth of her residual tumor in 2013.

Since her last major procedure, Chanelle has gotten married, purchased a home with her husband in Hampton, VA, and continued her education in pursuit of her Bachelor’s Degree at Old Dominion University, from which she graduated in May with a 3.9 GPA.

Based on her connection to Dr. Thames via the online Cushing’s community, Chanelle happily accepted the opportunity to intern with the EPIC Foundation. She successfully completed her internship requirements and earned her degree. Chanelle hopes to use her experience with the foundation to inform her future work in the health care industry, and possibly as a Patient Advocate. Chanelle was promoted to Director of Health Administration Services in July 2020 by The EPIC Foundation.

Despite all of her struggles, Chanelle has remained passionate about the topic of self-advocacy in the face of medical professionals—no matter their credentials. Additionally, Chanelle enjoys activities such as singing, cooking, weight training, and bowling with her dad, and hopes to build up the strength to get back into dance one day.

Chanelle can be reached via email at chanelle@epictogether.org or by phone at (888) 862-5554 Ext. 701

Together, WE are EPIC!!!

Endewyn A. Inzitari

Lead Service Dog Outreach Patient Advocate

 

Endewyn Inzitari resides in Greenwich, Connecticut with their family and dogs. At the age of five, Endewyn was diagnosed with the first of many disabilities, Tourette Syndrome. Throughout the years they were diagnosed with a myriad of other disabilities, eventually leading up to their partnership with a service dog to assist them. Growing up disabled has given them a unique perspective on the world and the people in it. Despite having to face many challenges in their life, Endewyn seeks to empower and assist fellow disabled people through advocacy and knowledge.

 

Endewyn hopes to go back to university once their health is better managed. In their spare time, they enjoy being outdoors, sewing, reading, cooking, and playing games. Endewyn enjoys living life to the fullest and hopes to inspire others to do the same. Something you can always find Endewyn saying is, “All I want out of life is to help people, and eat lots of sweets.”

 

Endewyn can be reached via email at endewyn@epictogether.org  or via phone at 888-862-5554 Ext.712.

 

Together we are EPIC!

Julianna Gazzara

Lead Outreach Patient Advocate

 

Julianna resides in Syracuse, New York and was born with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. She fought for 17 years in order to get a diagnosis, despite being sick and having symptoms for her whole life. With one major surgery under her belt, she continues to live with other debilitating symptoms. Even though being sick has been a huge obstacle in her life, she still one day wants to become a marine biologist. Not only does she want to help the environment, she has already dedicated her life to being a patient advocate and spreading awareness about rare diseases.

 

The EPIC Foundation is proud to have Julianna as our Lead Outreach Patient Advocate! Her areas of experience includes: EDS, Gastroparesis, Chronic Pain, and Youth Advocacy. 

 

Julianna can be reached by email at  julianna@epictogether.org  or via phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 706.

 

Together, we are EPIC! 

Sydney Cassel

Director of Community Engagement



Sydney Cassel currently resides in her hometown in Southern California, with her two endlessly supportive parents (and her dog!).  Although it was never her plan to return home after college, she recognizes how fortunate she is for her family’s support—and that family is the best medicine. Sydney graduated from UC Davis in 2017 with a B.S. in nutrition science, and an emphasis on public health.  Since childhood, she has wanted to work in healthcare and is currently working toward graduate school.  Although the goal to work in healthcare goes years back, becoming a complex patient at the age of 15 has given her a unique perspective on how important the role of a healthcare worker is.  She recognizes the many hats a provider must wear, including being a listener.  Although it is the medical professional who has the expertise, she’s learned that the expertise can only be put to its greatest potential if the patient is listened to; thus, while she hopes to carry that with her in the future as a PA, for now she aims to exhibit the qualities of a good listener within her role at EPIC.

She grew up with one older sister—her best friend– always by her side. Sydney loved putting her energy into both academics and competitive distance running—they were a huge part of her identity!  However, all of this was turned upside down overnight, just prior to the start of 10th grade when she began to experience pelvic pain issues, initially explained away as dehydration and being too “type A.”  For years the discomfort was both invalidated and/or misdiagnosed, and during that time, her general health declined while she continued to develop more issues.  Sydney’s pelvic dysesthesia (due to spine pathology & peripheral neuritis) remains her biggest issue, although she also deals with a host of others such as GI issues, dysautonomia (hyperactive ANS), an autoimmune element, fatigue, and the isolation that accompanies all of this.  This past February 2020, she underwent what was supposed to be the final “fix” surgery for her most pressing issues—it lasted 13 hours.  Although the complicated, extended recovery has been difficult to work through and accept, she is unfortunately well-acquainted with this rollercoaster (just like many of her fellow spoonies).  On that note, she feels strongly about dispelling the myth that illness automatically gets easier with time just because it is chronic.

While she still has many goals, despite many being delayed (due to health) such as graduate school– she will also openly tell you she regularly has days that test her limits physically and mentally. She does try to stay involved in the caring field, most recently working with a relief effort that provides free Covid-19 testing—the concept that it is fully covered regardless of status resonates with her as she knows so many who have been denied coverage due to complex illnesses, and thus they’ve been denied healthcare. Other goals include getting back on the running trails and soccer fields. growing friendships, and finally living a life not dictated by appointments.  Based on her medical team’s guidance, Sydney still plans that some of her most debilitating issues are curable; however, she wants to be clear that even if that were to happen, she’ll remain an advocate for this community.

Sydney is honored to work with The EPIC Foundation.  Although private for most of her nearly 11 years of illness, she feels it’s reached a point where she wants and needs to speak up for this community, one that is often silenced by the healthcare sector itself as well as general society.  She hopes to create more visibility and thus more understanding of what daily life means when living with a complicated yet invisible condition; with that, she wants to help destigmatize chronic and/or invisible illness so people like herself can be open without automatically being treated as a label. Although being in this club is not something Sydney would wish on anyone, years as a patient have taught her skills including how to navigate school & employment with unpredictable illnesses, how to communicate with healthcare providers, and perhaps most importantly, how to self-advocate.  She wears her heart on her sleeve and is choosing to be an open book, so please reach out!  Regardless of the exact task at hand, Sydney is committed to learning from others and their experiences, while also always making a continued effort to improve upon a work ethic characterized by the utmost authenticity, sincerity and passion.

Sydney Cassel can be reached via e mail at sydney@epictogether.org  or phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 714 Toll Free

 

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!

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

Brittany Wisowaty

Youth Advocate

Brittany Wisowaty was an intern with The EPIC Foundation as a Junior and Senior at Maine South High School in Park Ridge, IL. 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. While in high school, 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. After successfully completing her internship with EPIC in May 2020, Brittany was promoted to a Youth Advocate with the foundation.

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

Courtney Thames

Intern

 

Courtney Thames is a student at Maine West High school. She, as a daughter of a chronically ill patient, chose to gladly accept an internship position at The EPIC Foundation. Although she does not know firsthand what it’s like to deal with a chronic illness, she has witnessed her mother fight through chronic illnesses, such as Cushing’s and Addison’s disease. This helps her understand some of the struggles of living with these illnesses.

 

Courtney also understands many of the challenges of being a loved one of a chronically ill patient. She uses this experience to help others who are facing similar obstacles. These obstacles include on occasion taking night long trips to the ER or having scary nights where her mother has passed out and is unable to remember her own name due to another episode of adrenal insufficiency. Courtney also remembers feeling very disconnected from her mother at times during her early childhood; she found it difficult to handle when she and her mother could no longer spend the quality time that they used to have with each other; that time was replaced with her Mom  getting much needed rest or having to take that annual trip to see her specialist all the way out in Seattle again, 3000 miles away from their home. Courtney knew her mom was doing this all to better herself and to get back to who she used to be; deep down she admired her mom’s willpower to fight, but that didn’t remedy the fact that she really missed her mother and wished that she was well again. Courtney reasoned that surely there were other kids just like her going through similar things and asking that same question: Is there someone out there just like me?

 

When Courtney found out that she could connect with and help people just like herself through The EPIC foundation, it was obvious to her that she had to join. 

Along with her internship, Courtney is on the school dance team and is part of one of the Maine West choirs. She also performs with their vocal A cappella group called the “Choraliers”. She also loves watching movies, listening to music and spending time with her family.

 

Courtney can be reached via email at courtney@epictogether.org or by phone at (888) 862-5554 Ext. 717. Together we are EPIC!

Anahi Sosa

Youth Advocate

Anahi Sosa started off at EPIC as an intern in late 2019 and has since transitioned into a youth advocate position among the organization. A hard working young lady, Anahi plans to study psychology in college with an emphasis on children behavioral psychology. Determined, hardworking, and driven, Anahi is very goal oriented and likes to get the job done.

Anahi also is visually impaired and knows how it can feel being treated as the outcast by others who don’t understand what someone may be going through. It is because of this that Anahi strives to help others understand people with chronic illnesses, both visual or invisible, so that no one ever feels like they are unheard. Anahi loves to help people in any way she can and she assures to always have a friendly demeanor when interacting with new individuals! She desires to educate people.  To stand up and advocate for others who aren’t being treated fairly is where Anahi thrives, and she sees it as a personal mission for her to be a voice for those who can’t be heard. Her kind heart and caring personality go hand in hand with this lifelong mission, and she is nonstop!

Anahi Sosa can be reached via e mail at anahi@epictogether.org or phone at 888-862-5554 Ext. 716 Toll Free

 

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