P&S Journal: Spring 1997, Vol.17, No.2
Alumni Association Activities
An Alumna's Medical Odyssey
By Peter Wortsman
Adrienne R. Buffaloe'89 took a roundabout route to medicine. A native of Monmoutth County, N.J., she earned an undergraduate degree in education at Trenton State College and an M.Ed. degree from Rutgers Univeh County, N.J., she earned an undergraduate degree in education at Trenton State College and an M.Ed. degree from Rutgers UniversCounty, N.J., she earned an undergraduate degree in education at Trenton State College and an M.Ed. degree from Rutgers Univerrity Graduate School of Education. While still a student, she was invited to join the Rutgers faculty and taught statistics and research methodology.
Increasingly restless, however, with the challenge and earning potential of a career in education, Dr. Buffaloe, by then a single mother, explored other fields, at first considering the law and going so far as to pass the LSATs before realizing that she lacked the passion for jurisprudence.
It was about that time that she fell ill with vague, albeit increasingly serious, symptoms-headaches and dizziness-that a variety of doctors were unable to diagnose, concluding nothing was wrong with her.
As she pursued her "medical odyssey" over a six-year period, and her condition gradually worsened, she finally found a physician who correctly diagnosed a life-threatening cardiovascular disease resulting from chemical sensitivity.
At age 30, Adrienne Buffaloe found herself on Social Security disability with little hope of returning to a normal life. Unwilling to passively stand by, she took her life by the horns, as it were, "and began reading everything I could get my hands on on allergy, immunology, and chemical toxicity. I learned how my body became poisoned, what the cardiovascular and other multi-system effects had been." Following a lengthy hospitalization and a two-and-a-half-year period of convalescence and reflection, during which time, with the advice of her physician, she shifted to an organic diet and removed all the household chemicals in her immediate environment, she slowly regained her health. She decided to become a doctor so she could practice "the same kind of medicine that had saved my life."
The field of environmental medicine, originally termed clinical ecology, was launched in the 1940s by Chicago internist Byron Randolph, based on his perception that people were becoming ill from substances ambient in their environment.
"I was very grateful to find the answer to my own health problem, without which I would surely have died of a cardiac arrhythmia," says Dr. Buffaloe, "and I knew that there must be hundreds of patients around the country and the world who were likewise misdiagnosed."
At P&S, she found a rich curriculum and a student-supportive environment spearheaded by dean of students Dr. Linda Lewis. Shhe particularly appreciated the help and mentoring of Dr. Margaret Haynes, former assistant dean of minority affairs.
In her first two years at P&S, she managed to find time to pursue another passion by studying, then dancing with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. She also participated in a research project of the National Institute of Mental Health on post-traumatic stress disorder in rape victims and earned the New York County Medical Society's Outstanding Medical Student Award.
Dr. Buffaloe pursued a residency in emergency medicine at Bellevue Hospital/NYU Medical Center and interned in the general surgery/urology program at Albert Einstein/Montefiore.
From 1991 to 1996, she pursued private practice in environmental medicine. In January 1996, fulfilling a llong-standing dream, she founded Healthcare For the 21st Century, New York City's first chemically safe center for environmental medicine.
"I chose the name for my center," she says, "because I believe this is really the medicine for the next century." In specially designed facilities, the center treats chronic physical and mental disorders caused by allergies and hypersensitivities to the vast proliferation of new chemicals registered in the United States after World War II. "Many of these molecules pass the blood-brain barrier," she explains, "and make people sick in a variety of ways that medicine does not usually recognize as a pattern of illness.
"Public education is one of the center's primary goals," she says, "because patients are sick in ways that they don't understand." A member of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, Dr. Buffaloe lectures in the field at the University of Buffalo Medical School and is an instructor for ACLS and PALS certification courses for the American Heart Association.