Last year, Dr. Drew Cronyn ’87 was thinking about “bigger-picture” issues in health — things like childhood vaccination, or the decision not to vaccinate, which can leave children susceptible to serious ailments like whooping cough, measles, and flu — and trying to find a way to reach a broader audience than the patients and families he encountered as a primary-care pediatrician in St. Louis.
At the same time in San Francisco, Kathryn Bowsher ’87, a classmate and friend, was working with a company that makes an online vaccination-tracking tool. As part of a public outreach and education effort, Bowsher’s colleagues were looking for a doctor and parent who could write about the importance of vaccination. Bowsher immediately thought of Cronyn, and a partnership was born.
Cronyn now blogs as “PedDad” for the Parents for Vaccinations website, writing regularly for the first time since his undergraduate days as a Daily Princetonian staffer and editor, and Bowsher helps to share the messages in Cronyn’s posts. The writing is compelling, she said, because it’s not weighed down with dry statistics or institutional language.
One recent post describes Cronyn’s experiences as a child, when he had an exceptionally rare autoimmune disease, dermatomyositis, that attacked his muscles so severely that he was unable to walk. Going to many doctors — some great, others not — inspired Cronyn to pursue a career in medicine. He also gained an intimate understanding of why some parents fear immunization: For many years, he was told that his dermatomyositis was linked to vaccines. It was only as an adult, the year before starting medical school, that he consulted an immunologist and learned that vaccination had not caused his childhood disease. He immediately got up-to-date on his shots, he writes, and “the only consequences I suffered were sore shoulders.”
Bowsher said that working with her longtime friend in a professional context has been rewarding because there is a strong sense of trust and comfort in testing new ideas. Cronyn, meanwhile, has enjoyed a bit of unexpected recognition. Recently, while working at a new hospital, a nurse he’d just met showed him her Facebook feed, pointing out a link to one of Cronyn’s blog pieces.
Anti-vaccination voices still occupy a large share of the conversation online — a Google search for “I want to vaccinate my child” yields results that are nearly entirely in the anti-vaccination camp. “We really want to be part of the group that changes that,” Cronyn said.
Like many of our Tiger of the Week honorees, Kathryn Bowsher ’87 and Drew Cronyn ’87 were nominated by a PAW reader. Do you have an idea for a future Tiger of the Week profile? Let us know.