This year there is a new support group on campus. It is called SMILE (Serious Medical Matters Influencing Life Experience) that was created by Associate Professor and Evolutionary Developmental Biologist Dr. Laura Romano and Katherine Palms ’14, a communication major from Grosse Pointe Mi, following a couple of events that lead to both of them taking a medical leave two-thirds of the way through spring semester 2012.


Both Dr. Romano and Palms had to leave campus last spring after Dr. Romano was admitted into the hospital with a blood clot extending from her calf up into her abdomen and Palms suffering from a head injury.


“I decided to investigate whether or not there is a support group on campus for individuals dealing with serious medical conditions and I found that there was not,” said Dr. Romano about the creation process of SMILE. “I thought that this kind of support group would be really helpful for those of us who struggle to deal with the permanent effect of a condition on our mind or body, and/or those of us who struggle to deal with the fact that our lives may be shorter than what we had hoped (in the case of a life-threatening condition).”


Romano currently stands as the Faculty and Staff Liaison for SMILE. Romano and Palms collaborated on ideas for the program with the assistance of Mark Orten and Kristen Pantle, who is now the facilitator of the program. The support group aims to provide a safe space and support system for people who suffer, often silently, with chronic medical conditions.


“There are many people walking amongst us, who deal with pain and struggle with managing their health every day, and yet we have no clue because you cannot see it,” said Pantle. “Many medical conditions are invisible afflictions. Our culture has such a stigma about illness that it makes people uncomfortable to talk about it, and this leave those who are ill feeling unheard or even invalidated. This support group is for these people, to provide a way and means to get together with others who can relate to his or her daily struggles.”


SMILE meets every other week. The first meeting will be held on Thursday, Jan. from 12:00-1:00 p.m. in the President’s Room on the third floor in the library. Those interested are welcome to bring lunch and eat during the informal discussion.


Any faculty or staff interested in joining SMILE can contact Romano at