PCOM Georgia Medical Student Channels Grief Through Education
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‘A Box Full of Everything’: Med Student Channels Grief Through Education 
Black History Month

February 20, 2024

London Wheeler stands with her family outside on a sunny day.London Wheeler (DO ‘26) beams when speaking about her late mother.

“My mom was a box full of everything,” she said.

Wheeler, a second-year student at PCOM Georgia, was born and raised in the state, growing up in Lithonia, Georgia, about 30 minutes east of Atlanta.

Throughout her life, Wheeler would watch as her mother reinvented herself multiple times. “Everything you think you need done or could do, that's what she could do,” said Wheeler. “She was an interior designer and a caterer. She did that for 20 years, working everywhere around Atlanta. Then, she switched to making jewelry and finally, finished her life as an author.”

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, Wheeler’s mother, Diona, battled not just illness but skepticism and dismissal.

“She found her own lump,” said Wheeler. “My mom was a huge advocate, especially for women of color. She would tell people, ‘It's important to check yourself. Make sure you are up to date on your appointments,’ because when she was getting chemo, as a Black woman, nobody would listen to her.”

Diona’s initial diagnosis marked the beginning of a difficult journey. While undergoing treatment for her cancer, “Her heart failed,” said Wheeler, “It was a struggle.” Diona underwent successful heart transplant surgery but subsequently developed problems with her kidneys, requiring dialysis and ultimately a kidney transplant. “The whole time she was talking to doctors trying to tell them that something wasn’t right.”

In a remarkable chance, Wheeler’s father was a match for his wife’s transplant surgery. Despite finding a donor, Diona developed post-surgical complications with her gastrointestinal system, passing away in August 2023.

“She just kept saying, ‘Hey, something is off, I'm not eating,’ and you think, ‘Maybe it's just the medicine or maybe it’s because of this or that,’” Wheeler remembered.

Medical student London Wheeler in her white coat.Partly as a response to the challenges her mother experienced, Wheeler created YouTube and Instagram pages called “Student Doctor London Calling.” The aim, she said, is to get people of color to place more trust in medicine – through representation.

“I feel like the reason Black people don't trust medicine and the reason we are dying every day is that we don't see anybody who looks like us,” she said.

The eldest of two girls and a first-generation college graduate, Wheeler never had any doctors in the family.

She attended Georgia State University for her undergraduate degree and Meharry Medical College for her master’s. She took a gap year and was working as a scribe for ScribeAmerica, a medical scribe provider, when she saw her first Black doctor.

“He was the only Black man in the emergency department,” she said. “Every time he walked into the room, everybody would ask, ‘Where's the doctor?’ It's very rare to see one of us in this position.”

Hoping to eventually specialize in pediatrics, Wheeler believes she can serve as a role model for others, starting with young patients and continuing throughout their lives.

“My mom always said that people perish due to lack of knowledge,” she said. “I want to follow [my patients] through and be a little light in their journey.”

From February 1 to February 29, PCOM joins others around the country in observing Black History Month. This important celebration honors the histories, cultures and contributions of those who identify as Black or African American. At PCOM, we recognize our faculty, students and staff who identify as such and will highlight their stories throughout the month.

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  • About PCOM Georgia

    Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a branch campus of Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM), a private, not-for-profit, accredited institution of higher education with a storied 125-year history dedicated to the healthcare professions. Located in Suwanee (Gwinnett County), PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy and physical therapy. Graduate degrees are offered in biomedical sciences, medical laboratory science and physician assistant studies. The campus joins PCOM South Georgia in Moultrie in helping to meet the healthcare needs of the state. Emphasizing "a whole person" approach to care, PCOM Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service to the community. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 678-225-7500. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center, an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment. For more information, visit pcomgeorgiahealth.org.

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    Jamesia Harrison, MS
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    Email: jamesiaha@pcom.edu
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