YOUR HEALTH: What can be done when the medicines you need make you even sicker?

When it comes to health, we each have our own specific symptoms and concerns. Unfortunately, treatment typically isn’t individualized, until now.

PALO ALTO, California – One medical center has developed an innovative program that uses new technology, genetics, and other tools to personalize care.

For Debbie Spaizman, it means actually getting the help she needs.

She needed surgery, but she hesitated due to how she reacted to pain medication.

"My head would spin.  I really was foggy, and I had itching all over my body," she explained.

"I had no pain relief at all.  I thought twice about having the surgery."

To get answers, Debbie enrolled in the HumanWide Project at Stanford Medical School.

The study flips the model on healthcare by personalizing treatment.

That includes a deep dive into pharmacogenics.

"Pharmacogenomics specifically tests for genes that look at the rate in which we metabolize drugs," said Dr. Megan Mahoney, Clinical Professor of Medicine at Stanford University.

"It can determine the dosing of medications and also predict any side effects."

That means our genes can play a big role in how we respond to medicine.

And so, with a quick swab of the cheek, Debbie finally got answers.

"The result of the test showed that I'm a slow metabolizer.   Drugs will stay in my system longer than they will for someone else."

With that, a plan started to come together for Debbie.

"We were able to identify the class of opioids that would work for her based on her pharmacogenomic make-up and then she was able to go through with the surgery," said Dr. Mahoney.

Debbie is grateful.

"It was life changing for me."

And she's not the only one.

"25% of patients had a change in their dose of medication based on the pharmacogenomics test," said Dr. Mahoney.

It's an approach that Debbie calls an "absolutely game changer."

Stanford is not the only one paying attention to pharmacogenics.

The US Department of Veteran Affairs is making a big push to personalize medicine for its vets.

The program will enroll those with a history of cancer, but will also inform doctors how patients will metabolize other medicines they need.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.