SUMMIT, N.J. — As a harpist, Cecelia Chartoff needs her hands to be in good working order, but it’s not always easy for the performer, who has rheumatoid arthritis. The chronic autoimmune disorder affects the joints and can also attack other body systems.
However, Chartoff rarely misses a performance and she credits her reliability to Dr. Elliot Rosenstein at Overlook Medical Center.
“I am playing in an orchestra here in New Jersey,” Chartoff said. “We have three concerts a year, I always say ‘yes’ and I always play. I play for weddings and things like that. I have to commit. And I always say, ‘sure, yes, I can play.’ But, I know that if I get in trouble, he knows what to do, so I can keep doing what I’m doing.”
Rosenstein recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Jersey chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, the Champion of YES, at the organization’s annual Evening of Honors event on Oct. 10 at the Westmount Country Club in Highland Park.
Rosenstein is the co-director of the Institute for Rheumatic and Autoimmune Diseases, or IRAD, which he co-founded eight years ago at Overlook. He also is the founding president of the New Jersey Rheumatology Association and has served on the board of directors of the New Jersey chapter of the Arthritis Foundation.
The ways in which Rosenstein has kept Chartoff playing her harp have changed dramatically during the 29 years he has been treating her, and the study of rheumatology has evolved considerably during its 80 years as a recognized specialty.
“Rheumatology is a bizarre kind of specialty because it’s a new medical specialty,” Rosenstein said in a Nov. 1 interview with LocalSource. “At the time it was first organized, it was a specialty that devoted itself solely to nonsurgical approaches to joint diseases. Our diseases are a reflection of what’s going on in the entire body and require a multidisciplinary approach.”
New drugs and new technology have required Rosenstein to evolve as well.
“I have a very serious, debilitating disease.” Chartoff said. “I’m very happy to have Dr. Rosenstein in my life, especially in what I do. I use my hands and so, in all of these 29 years, I’ve had my ups and downs. I’m very thankful to him; he is not only a very good doctor, but a human being. He shows you how much he cares, he is supportive. He always has an exercise that I do, and I always get better. I just follow whatever he says and I’m doing well with it.”
Since a multifaceted approach is required to treat rheumatoid arthritis, Rosenstein made sure to acknowledge others with whom he works.
“I don’t want to see that this is all about me, because this is a collaborative effort on so many levels,” he said when accepting his award. “It takes many disciplines on many levels to do what we do. It takes a hospital administration that has the same vision.”
Rosenstein thanked the physicians, nurses, and staff who operate IRAD, and Dr. Neil Kramer, his co-director and clinical partner for 35 years.
“This event is ultimately not about the honorees,” Rosenstein said. “It’s about the patients, and every day my patients remind me how resilient the human spirit can be, how adversity can be met and overcome and how my personal concerns pale in comparison to those who must face every day accommodating to an emotionally and physically challenging illness.”
For Rosenstein, the award was a bit of a surprise.
“I’m a modest person,” he said Nov. 1. “And I’m kind of blown away by it.”
He also credited Overlook Hospital for backing him on establishing IRAD, which its parent, Atlantic Health System, boasts is “the only hospital based facility in New Jersey where doctors take a comprehensive approach to delivering concise and accurate diagnoses and treatment plans.”
“We were welcomed by Overlook Medical Center and Atlantic Health and by an administration that shared our vision of building the Institute for Rheumatic and Autoimmune Diseases, a center that would provide superb patient care in an academic setting while doing cutting edge clinical research,” Rosenstein said.
Rosenstein also established the New Jersey Rheumatology Association.
“Twenty years ago, I saw that there was a need for the organization to be reorganized and revitalized. Almost 20 years ago, I tried to reorganize it and, since then, it’s been very successful. Between 50 and 120 of us meet twice a year for education and advocacy. A large part of the work of the association is collaborative research and political advocacy.”
Rosenstein also emphasized that medicine has changed during his career, saying, “A lot has changed in the last 20 years in terms of technologies and pharmaceuticals that we have. There are new diagnostic tests including radio-skeletal technology. We want the state to be on our side when we talk to insurers.”
“Medicine has gotten a lot faster than it used to be. The time that physicians have with patients is more and more limited. Sometimes patients don’t leave a doctor’s office with a full comprehension of what they’re dealing with. A major thrust of the Arthritis Foundation is medication. The Arthritis Foundation works very hard to make sure insurance covers their medication.”
The science and philosophy of rheumatology has also matured during Rosenstein’s experience, he said. For instance, because of the medication now available, it is rare that patients need joint replacements anymore.
“We have so many things available to us now that weren’t available to us before,” Rosenstein said. “And part of that is research that has been done at Overlook. It’s not a sudden transformation, it’s been an evolution. Our approach to rheumatology has changed. These conditions affect things other than just the joints.”
Chartoff is simply grateful for the combination of evolving improvements in rheumatology and Rosenstein’s role in it.
“I am not afraid to say, ‘Yes, I can play,’” she said.