Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month

A Vocation Found – a Parent’s Path from Caregiver to Pediatrician

For tween-ager Ryleigh Imrisek and her family, relocating in 2019 to Jacksonville, Fla., was like coming full circle. The reason for the move was because her mother Jessica Warrick Imrisek, MD, had graduated from medical school and was a pediatric resident at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville. They were familiar with Jacksonville because they had a six-week stay in the city in 2011, but for a very different reason. When Ryleigh was 14 months old, she was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor, ependymoma, and needed proton therapy.

The family lived in Hollywood, Fla., at the time of Ryleigh’s diagnosis. The oncologist at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital recommended proton therapy and introduced the Imriseks to the parents of another child who had recently completed treatment with proton therapy. Meeting the family and child, who was six weeks post proton therapy and belting around the room just being a regular 3-year-old, helped solidify the Imriseks’ decision that proton therapy at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute was the right treatment for Ryleigh.

“You get the diagnosis of cancer, which leaves you feeling devastated and helpless, but meeting other parents of children that had been treated at Proton, and seeing their child months out of treatment thriving, helped us pull ourselves together and provided hope we needed,” said Ryleigh’s dad Kevin Imrisek.

Jessica and Ryleigh relocated to Jacksonville for Ryleigh’s six weeks of daily proton therapy under anesthesia. The Imriseks said each person on staff, whether a clinical care team member or administrative support staff member, helped to make the experience as easy as possible. “Everyone seemed very knowledgeable and really wanted to help. They must’ve known we were extremely overwhelmed, and their actions helped ease us into the next phase of our daughter’s treatment,” said Kevin.

Jessica said without a doubt proton therapy was the right choice for Ryleigh’s treatment. Ryleigh is a seventh-grader who loves theater class and advanced math class. “With all the information we have now, we would 100% choose the same path for Ryleigh’s treatment. Even one year out, we would have done the same,” Jessica said.

“The experience was exactly what we needed to keep ourselves together. And to thrive. We thrived in the years after.” The experience of Ryleigh’s cancer diagnosis and treatment sparked Jessica’s interest in becoming a physician. “It was such an immersion in medicine. I felt like I had to go into medicine,” she said. “I wanted to try and be there for people.” Initially Jessica thought she might specialize in hematology/oncology, but ultimately decided to be a pediatrician. Today she is a practicing pediatrician in a hospital emergency department in Jacksonville.

Ryleigh in 7th grade Ryleigh with Mom

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