RLS Foundation Welcomes New Board Chair, Dr. Shalini Paruthi

August 9, 2023 RLS Foundation Welcomes New Board Chair, Dr. Shalini Paruthi By Clara Schlemeyer, RLS Foundation Program Coordinator ...

August 9, 2023

RLS Foundation Welcomes New Board Chair, Dr. Shalini Paruthi

By Clara Schlemeyer, RLS Foundation Program Coordinator

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Shalini Paruthi, who joined the Foundation’s Board of Directors in 2018 and became Chair this year! Dr. Paruthi also dedicates her time to the AASM (American Academy of Sleep). She is certified in both internal medicine and sleep medicine and has extensive expertise in treating both pediatric and adult patients, but her particular interest is in sleep disorders of childhood – obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, narcolepsy, and – of course – restless legs syndrome. While treating her patients, she is also educating future doctors at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Her willingness to teach, treat, and share her knowledge is inspiring.

Q. What was your motivation to get involved with the RLS Foundation, and why did you choose to stay involved?

A. My patients are my biggest motivators! I specialize in sleep disorders and have a specific interest in RLS, because I am also an RLS patient. It’s something that I see every day that is easily misunderstood, and there is not enough good, reliable, truthful information available for people. I think one of the most important things that physicians can do is to advocate for our patients. When Karla Dzienkowski reached out to me knowing that I had an interest in RLS, and that my primary focus is on pediatric sleep disorders, it was an excellent opportunity for me to bring my advocacy to the Foundation.

Q. As a physician who specializes in sleep disorders, what knowledge and skills do you hope to bring to the Board as you step into your role as chair?

A. One of the best parts of my day is that I am a teaching physician. I previously taught full-time at Saint Louis University and now am at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Saint Louis. In my role at St. Luke’s, I continue to teach rotators about sleep disorders. I want to make sure that they have a very strong knowledge of all the different sleep disorders, including RLS, which can be very difficult to recognize and diagnose. Sometimes patients cannot articulate their exact symptoms or the symptoms overlap with other medical disorders. As a teaching physician, in every patient visit, I am not only educating the patient but also educating the learners rotating with me.

Additionally, I chaired the program committee at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for two years. The program committee plans the annual national SLEEP meeting, during which nearly 5,000 physicians, nurses, sleep technicians and sleep researchers gather to share knowledge and learn from one another. That experience enabled me to help with the Foundation’s educational events, such as our virtual Summits and our in-person Patient Symposium, where I served as moderator and educator.

Q. What is your favorite part about serving on this Board?

A. My fellow Board Members! I have met so many people with such different and diverse talents, backgrounds and perspectives, and every one of them is so dedicated to our mission. They want nothing more than to make sure that we are increasing RLS awareness, improving treatments and looking for the best research opportunities. Each Board member is focused on improving RLS diagnosis opportunties and ensuring wider availability of proper treatment. I just see so much passion, dedication and really great teamwork.

Q. How has living with RLS fueled your passion for helping the RLS community?

A. Having RLS, and at times suffering terribly from it, has really opened my eyes to the lack of knowledge surrounding RLS. I am very passionate about educating people about RLS and that it is a serious disorder. It can be so disruptive to a person’s quality of life or their ability to sleep well at night, which then affects their daytime function. For me, it has increased my compassion and empathy for others who suffer from RLS, and I want to do as much as I can within the RLS Foundation to increase awareness and help others know there is hope in finding a treatment that works for them. In addition, we must remind everyone that RLS is also a pediatric disorder with many young children or teenagers having RLS as their cause of insomnia.

Q. What are your future goals and aspirations for the Board?

A. The future goals for the Board are very clearly and appropriately tied to our mission. I hope to increase awareness about pediatric RLS. When a child comes to see me in the office, their parents have already tried all sorts of good sleep hygiene and techniques they have found on the internet, or followed suggestions from family and friends. Yet, they can’t understand what is being so disruptive to their child’s sleep. Often, no one has asked them questions about uncomfortable sensations in the legs or those urges to move in the evenings and the restlessness that comes along with it. Once we diagnose their RLS and begin treatment, they see a huge improvement in their child and the whole family’s interactions. As a Board we are making progress in education, and we must recognize that RLS affects the lifespan, from young children all the way up to older adults.

It is incredibly important for us to request proposals for research projects that can be funded. We have an amazing group of donors who understand just how much RLS affects others, and our best bet is to continue to fund high-quality research that will get us closer to finding better treatments and a cure for RLS. I want to express my deep gratitude for the work of the staff at the RLS Foundation; Karla, Zibby, Clara and Adrianna are an absolutely amazing, hard-working group of dedicated women who really care about people suffering from RLS.

Q. What is your biggest piece of advice for those struggling with their RLS?

A. People are their own best experts; we can recognize when something is not right within our bodies. When you don’t get a satisfactory answer about a problem you are having, it doesn’t mean that your doctor does not care or that they are dismissing you. It may just be that they don’t know enough about RLS and may not realize what an impact it is having on your quality of life. If at first you see a clinician who does not quite understand what you are saying, it does not mean that all doctors do not know about it, it just means you need to keep looking until you find the right physician who does know about RLS. Sometimes that means doing a little bit of detective work. Most neurologists should know about RLS, and even if they are not experts, they may be able to refer you either to a movement disorder specialist within neurology or directly to a board-certified sleep physician at an accredited sleep center. Being your own advocate and not settling for the first answer that you get – just being true to your body – is my best piece of advice on RLS.

To view a list of healthcare providers organized by state who have come forward expressing an interest and knowledge in treating RLS or learn more about RLS Quality Care Centers, visit www.rls.org.

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