The Role of Genetic Counselors

A genetic counselor is a medical professional and a patient advocate who is trained to counsel families about genetic diagnoses and their implications, a CHOC Children’s medical geneticist says.

Genetic counselors can determine the risk of a genetic disorder to other family members in future pregnancies, and they provide comprehensive information, education and resources about that particular diagnosis. They do so by examining a family’s medical history and working with other specialists to aid in making a diagnosis, says Dr. Neda Zadeh.

“Genetic counselors often manage and provide support when a family is encountering a new diagnosis, which can be a challenging and difficult situation.  They really offer help to a family that may not have been expecting a genetic diagnosis,” Dr. Zadeh says. “Our job as a team is to be there to support them.”

Though available to anyone, genetic counseling can be a helpful tool in family planning, especially for people with a family history of a chromosomal or genetic condition.

Those who might seek prenatal genetic counseling include couples that have experienced multiple miscarriages; couples older than 40; and couples undergoing in vitro fertilization whose embryos can be screened for genetic abnormalities that may run in their family.

In a prenatal setting, a genetic counselor meets with a couple that may have a family history of a genetic condition, or a sign of a problem from a prenatal ultrasound. The counselor develops a risk assessment and provides the couple information on all screening and diagnostic testing options. The counselor also discusses possible outcomes and reproductive options in a neutral, non-directive way, she explains.

To learn more about genetics consultations, please visit choc.org/health.

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All Patients are Family for CHOC’s Mother, Daughter Physicians

Dr. Neda Zadeh has a special nickname for her mentor at CHOC Children’s: Mom.

She and her mother, Dr. Touran Zadeh, are among CHOC’s medical geneticists, working together to treat children with developmental disabilities, congenital abnormalities, birth defects and genetic disorders.

“She has been my hero for so long,” the younger Zadeh says. “I probably don’t tell her enough. I have so much admiration for her.”

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Drs. Touran Zadeh and Neda Zadeh

 

A long CHOC connection

The mother-daughter duo has worked alongside each other since 2010, when the younger Zadeh joined the CHOC genetics team full-time after completing her clinical genetics and molecular genetics fellowships at Stanford University and UCLA.

And in a way, she was coming home: As a young girl, Zadeh, who declared her dream of becoming a doctor when just in preschool, frequently accompanied her mother when she’d be called into work at CHOC on evenings and weekends.

“I always knew that I’d go and do genetics training and come back and join her practice,” the younger Zadeh says. “I grew up at CHOC. I can’t imagine working anywhere else.”

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Mother and daughter, circa 1980

Early work challenges dissolve

Though both women acknowledge that learning to work together was challenging at first, the pair today easily functions as professionals first, and mother and daughter second.

But that doesn’t stop the younger Zadeh from marveling at her mother’s expertise, and bragging that mom can often make a correct diagnosis just by looking at a patient.

And the elder Zadeh, who has been at CHOC for about 30 years, says she also learns much from her daughter, especially when it comes to technology.

“I learned a lot of new stuff from Neda because her generation is more Internet- and computer- savvy,” she says. “Also, a lot of time I consult with her, just like anybody else in our profession would.”

A common care philosophy

The two also share a patient care philosophy: “My mother told me to always treat patients as though they were your family,” the younger Zadeh recalls. “That has really stuck with me. Every time I see a patient, I think of that. I think that’s the only way it can be.”

Though families are sometimes confused by seeing physicians with a resemblance and the same name, both women believe patients benefit from being under the care of a mother-daughter duo.

“When she’s with a patient who she thinks may have something that I’ve seen before, she gets me involved,” says the elder Zadeh. “In that respect, it’s good for patients.”

The next generation

Though they work side by side, the women try to see each other socially at least once a week – especially since the younger Zadeh’s first son was born almost two years ago.

The toddler has not yet declared an interest in becoming a physician, but the younger Zadeh admits she’d be thrilled if that desire ever materialized.

“Any parent would have to be happy if their child told them they wanted to follow in their footsteps,” she says.

It’s true: Just ask her mother.

“I am so proud,” the elder Zadeh says. “When Neda got the call that she got into medical school, she was really very happy. That was her longtime goal, and it was a dream come true.”

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