Dean Moira Uy with FEU IHSN officials and visitors. Photo from FEU IHSN.

“We are persons with disabilities (PWD). But it is not as recognizable as the other PWD cases. There are a lot of misconceptions and challenges we face because we don’t look sick, at first glance. But inside, we are fighting it. That’s my motivation, I want to help those people who are also like me. Given that I have this platform, I am doing my PhD, and I am a nurse, I will put us in the spotlight—by sharing our struggles.”

Moira Gaviola Uy, Dean of Nursing, Institute of Health Sciences and Nursing, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in 2012. According to Mayo Clinic, RA is an autoimmune disease, a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect many different body systems such as joints, skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. It was recently put in the public’s spotlight when actress-television host and influencer, Kris Aquino was diagnosed with this disease.

According to Uy, autoimmune diseases are highly characterized by the events of human natural defense system failure to distinguish the difference between human cells and foreign cells. Due to this, the human being’s natural defense system tends to attack the body’s healthy cells. In Uy’s case, her joints became the collateral.

“We have pain every day and our medications can help ease it out. I am just lucky that I have high pain tolerance but not everyone who has RA can endure the pain,” Uy mentioned.

She used her own story, struggles and challenges with RA in pursuing a personal advocacy of educating the public about autoimmune diseases. As someone who has a platform, she viewed it as an opportunity to share the coping mechanisms of people diagnosed with RA and the importance of giving premium to the medication of these patients.

“I know one story of a child diagnosed with RA. The child’s family did not take her case seriously as they viewed it as if the child was just faking the ailments,” she added.

Uy candidly shared her personal experience with discriminatory remarks regarding RA.

“When I started attending PhD, I always took the train. And one day, I experienced extreme pain, and I was not feeling well. I went to the designated train wagon dedicated for elderly people, PWDs, and pregnant women. While on the wagon, I heard a remark from an elderly regarding people faking illnesses for comfortable train seat. I knew the elderly was referring to me. I politely approached the elderly and told her that I am a PWD.”

This struggle prompted Uy to pursue an advocacy in educating the public regarding RA. Uy partnered with Far Eastern University and under the tutelage of the UP Manila College of Nursing Graduate Program, Uy was able to publish her research on the construction of coping of adults with rheumatoid arthritis. The study was published in 2021. She also presented the research in the 24th East Asian Forum of Nursing Scholars last April 21, 2021, and the International PhD Symposium 2023 of Alice Lee Centre for Nursing Studies at Yoo Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore last November 20 and 21, 2023.

The objective of the study is to develop an explanatory framework toward the constructions of coping among adults diagnosed with RA. This explanatory framework is essential in eliminating the negative connotations and understanding of RA in public. Uy used the purposive sampling method and interviewed 15 adults, with ages ranging from 21 to 50, living in National Capital Region, Central Luzon, and CALABARZON.

Meanwhile, Uy used Straussian Grounded Theory in the generation of the explanatory framework.

“Finding willing participants was the hardest. But again, with my platform, I talked with my doctor regarding my study, and I was connected to her clinics in Quezon City and Bataan. Through that, I was able to join an online support group, like the Filipinos with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and messaged the members for possible participation in my study. And they did,” Uy shared.

According to Uy, her participants willingly shared their stories of coping and struggles. She only had three questions and followed unstructured interviews. Despite the limited questions, the participants of the study took charge of their stories and shared it with no limits. Uy also highlighted the importance of the qualitative aspects in studying human responses to health.

“I just want people to know that RA is an invisible disease. Even young people can fall victim to this. We need to give it more attention, hopefully as much as the attention we are giving other diseases such as cancers,” Uy added.

Aside from educating the public about RA, for Uy, this research is also important for the further development of health sciences as a field of study. For her, this research reflects the interdisciplinary approach as one of the best ways in addressing health related issues and concerns.

“Research is very important in health sciences. It feeds into what we teach and into the innovations in the practice adopted by hospitals. As nurses, we should have that mindset to contribute to the body of nursing science for the benefit of those we serve,” said Uy.

Uy is hopeful that future research in health sciences will open up doors for more collaborations and partnerships. She emphasized how FEU Nursing is taking this opportunity to expand partnerships with hospitals for its nursing students. FEU is committed to rendering services and knowledge to its stakeholders. One example of this was last semester’s collaboration of the Nursing Department with Dr. Jose N. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital (DJNMRH) formerly Tala Hospital. Nursing students rendered hours of duty in the hospital and the FEU Nursing helped DJNRMH with their nursing service’s research agenda.

“Other than partnering with hospitals for the duty of our students, we take our partnerships seriously by helping them with whatever we may share with them,” she said.

On the other hand, FEU is continuously providing research opportunities and supports for its students and faculty members. Uy, who is finishing her PhD in UP Manila, is one of the proud recipients of University Research Assistance Grant (URAG). FEU is funding her PhD research, a collaboration with Dr. Araceli O. Balabagno, on “Nurse-led Online Interventions for Functionality, Psychosocial Health, and Empowerment and the Adaptive Coping of Persons with Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Mixed-method Study.”

“For those people who are recently diagnosed with RA, there are a lot of groups and online support groups composed of people with RA. They can help you navigate the disease. And for the public, you can read studies like that of mine for you to understand the journey, and the struggles of RA patients going through. It is important to note that your words and actions can positively and negatively affect their well-being,” she said. (Jordan John P. Cabarles)