A conversation with Manda Roddick: Using complex health challenges as a catalyst for social change

Manda Roddick - Island Kids First - Lisa Huus Bursary

In speaking with PhD candidate Manda Roddick, her resilience and passion for making an impact become immediately clear. In addition to pursuing her doctoral degree at the University of Victoria, volunteering with the Patient Voices Network, and working as a peer tutor for students with disabilities, Manda also has to constantly manage her complex health challenges.

Manda had a healthy childhood on a farm in Ontario and was taken aback when she began having difficulty opening doors while pursuing her undergraduate degree in Human Geography at Queen’s University. After running tests, doctors discovered that Manda was developing inflammatory arthritis, which would eventually affect her ability to write by hand and even walk. Medication allowed her to manage the condition, and she soon enrolled in her Master’s of Sociology at the University of Victoria to study social inequality by carrying out international development research with students volunteering in West Africa.

Her heath later took a turn for the worse after she began having painful bladder issues. And while she underwent extensive treatments and clinical trials, her overall health was steadily declining.

“While all this was going on, I was still getting sicker and my doctors weren’t sure what was happening. I lost a lot of weight and got shingles. When I think about it, my conditions prior to that – like my arthritis and bladder issues – were painful, and I still have to manage those conditions; however, the turning point was when they found out I have a rare genetic disease called common variable immunodeficiency (CVID).”

Manda’s body doesn’t produce antibodies, meaning she has very low immunity and is prone to aggressive autoimmune conditions. For Manda, this has manifested through her inflammatory arthritis and even skin cancer, which she overcame in 2013.

CVID has led to numerous complications for Manda. She has had countless invasive surgeries, receives monthly plasma infusions at the hospital, and was unable to walk unassisted for three years because she could not take her immuno-suppressive arthritis medication while having back-to-back surgeries.

Manda’s complex health challenges have inspired her to combine these experiences with her passion for eradicating social inequality by obtaining her PhD in Sociology with a focus on Health and Illness. She is dedicated to ensuring every Canadian, regardless of their educational level or economic status, can safely navigate the medical system.

“I’m studying the ‘healthwork’ that patients do to move through the BC health care system and collect all the information, including diagnostic testing, that doctors need to provide care. I want to find ways that patients with rare and complex illnesses can move safely through the system and make sure the right information is in the right place at the right time.”

With 1 in 12 Canadians having a rare disease, Manda’s research will have a widespread impact. After completing her education, she hopes to become a policy analyst with Island Health or enter a post-doctoral research fellowship to deepen her work.

For students with complex health needs like Manda, post-secondary course loads often must be spread out over a number of years to accommodate their health conditions. This can create financial strain and threaten the ability of students to finish their degrees.

As a recipient of Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island’s Lisa Huus Bursary, Manda has been able to stay enrolled in school, while prioritizing her health. She encourages every student in BC who qualifies for the bursary to apply in order to achieve their goals.

When asked about the impact of the Lisa Huus Bursary on her education, Manda reflected, “it’s made the difference between being able to finish my program or dropping out. The Committee has been so supportive – the bursary has had a huge impact on my life.”

The Lisa Huus Memorial Fund was created in memory of Lisa Pauline Huus in 1988 by her family and has been supported by personal donations and fundraising activities for 30 years. Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island is now accepting applications for the bursary, and successful applicants will be awarded up to $5,000 for 2021/2022. Applications are due May 31, 2021.  To learn more or to apply, visit our Lisa Huus page.