This m.d.’s career has been devoted to raising awareness of arthritis and autoimmune diseases that can cause disability and chronic pain

by Jessica Jones-Gorman • Photos By Robert Nuzzie

When Magdalena Cadet was studying medicine at Drexel University in Philadelphia, she developed an interest in rheumatology simply because it was an intensely complex subspecialty that challenged her.

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“Rheumatology was a multifaceted field that I didn’t know very much about,” Dr. Cadet said. “I knew it involved disorders of the musculoskeletal system and at its deepest level investigated disease of the immune system, but I was intrigued by the specialty because it was foreign to me.”

Cadet, a former competitive figure skater and ballerina, was fascinated by how the body recuperates from injury, and knew that rheumatology would allow her to explore that process. But it was during her residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital, when she met a young patient who had been diagnosed with lupus, that her desire to help those affected by rheumatic disease kicked into high gear.

“She was a young girl in her twenties, just about my age at the time, who presented with symptoms of rash, severe lethargy, and body aches,” Cadet said. “She had lived with these symptoms for much of her life, never fully understanding the extent of her disease, mainly because the doctors she had seen didn’t communicate the severity of her health issues well. By the time the appropriate medications were diagnosed to alleviate her symptoms, she had died from the disease. It was something that really hit home for me…realizing how little education is out there for young people who suffer from these debilitating illnesses.”

So Cadet signed up for a rheumatology fellowship at the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases.

“Immune system issues are so complicated and intricate—they can impact your life as much as breast cancer and heart disease, but are not highlighted very often,” she said. “During my fellowship, I had the good fortune of meeting many young men and women bravely battling a range of different diseases. And while arthritis, lupus, and joint disease were adversely impacting their lives, they knew their conditions were manageable. I knew then that I wanted to be the physician who could relay that message to others.”

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During her fellowship, Cadet was one of a small group selected to serve on the American College of Rheumatology’s subcommittees on quality measures. After completing her fellowship, she was named director of rheumatology at New York Hospital Queens/New York Presbyterian Healthcare System and director of student education, a position she held for several years. She then accepted a position at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina.

She returned to the Northeast to serve as an assistant clinical professor at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, a position she still holds. In January, Cadet joined the staff of The Spine & Pain Institute of New York as director of its Bone & Joint Health and Osteoporosis Center on Staten Island. “This is a great hybrid private practice where I get to meet a lot of patients and work closely with other specialties,” she said.

Cadet remains focused on women’s health issues such as osteoporosis and arthritis as well as on autoimmune diseases such as lupus. She continually draws from her sports background to motivate others to live a healthier lifestyle.

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“I started skating at the age of eight and practiced every day at 4:30 a.m. for 10 years,” Cadet said. “I loved it because it was such a challenge and pushed my body to its limits.”

She remains an active athlete. In 2016, she completed the More Fitness Half marathon for the third time, and will be running in the event again this year. She participates, in part, to honor women battling bone and joint disease as well as lupus and other autoimmune diseases.

“Running was something that I honestly started doing to challenge myself,” Cadet said. “I think fitness empowers women, and using fitness to call attention to these diseases I treat just made sense. I see so many patients who have impacted my life in some capacity. It is my goal to highlight their struggles and their journey.”

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Cadet has dedicated her career to raising awareness of arthritis and autoimmune diseases that can cause significant disability and chronic pain in people, especially minority women. Her ongoing clinical work, community outreach, and research in the field, as well as involvement in national education efforts about arthritis, have resulted in being named a recipient of the Queens Leader Award by the Arthritis Foundation. She was also selected as a Castle Connolly Top Doctor in 2016.

“Being able to listen, empathize, explain, and educate has been my greatest accomplishment,” Cadet said. “If I can help one person in some capacity, this job has a purpose.”

To help address the significant health problem of arthritis and autoimmune diseases, Cadet has been involved with advocacy. In the past, she has served as a physician representative from New York City for the Arthritis Foundation and has met with the legislative staffs of New York Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer on Capitol Hill, seeking their support of the Arthritis Prevention, Control, and Cure Act.

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Cadet’s knowledge of sports medicine and autoimmune diseases has led to her being featured in Essence, Prevention, and The Ultimate Health Guide, as well as on such websites as Lifescript and Everyday Health. Some of Cadet’s experiences as a rheumatologist were also captured in the book Lupus: Real Life, Real Patients, Real Talk, (Thoughts and Letters Press, 2013) by Marisa Zeppieri-Caruana.

Known as Dr. Maggie to her patients, Cadet is also a mother and accomplished speaker and writer. Going forward, she plans to continue her quest to motivate individuals living with osteoporosis, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases, to advocate on their behalf, and to learn more about disease and treatments, all while continuing her own healthy lifestyle.

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“For years, those who have suffered from lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis were basically handicapped,” Cadet said. “But there has been so much innovation with medicine, therapies, and early diagnosis. Twenty years ago, rheumatologists were almost powerless. But at the beginning of my fellowship, things started to pick up. Attention was placed on early detection. Pharmaceutical companies pushed drug therapies that are helping patients live longer, more productive lives. So now, when patients come into my office, I have a lot to offer. And that is definitely the most fulfilling part of my job.”

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