Date: February 1, 2013
Jennifer Arnold ’00 spent more time in The Johns Hopkins Hospital before she was a Hopkins medical student than when she became one.
Now assistant professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, medical director of the Pediatric Simulation Center at Texas Children’s Hospital, and co-star of The Learning Channel’s reality series The Little Couple, Arnold was born in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1974. Her parents, wondering why she was not growing normally, brought her to Hopkins at age 2 to see the late Victor McKusick ’46, the father of medical genetics. He diagnosed Arnold’s condition as spondyloepiphysea dysplasia, a form of skeletal dysplasia, or dwarfism, that results in many joint and orthopedic complications.
Over the next 12 years, the late Steven Kopits performed dozens of orthopedic surgeries on Arnold. For her first surgery—a cervical spine fusion—Kopits (faculty, orthopedic surgery, 1969-1985), enlisted Benjamin Carson, then a young surgeon on his way to becoming head of pediatric neurosurgery, to collaborate with him.
“I’m very much indebted to them both,” says Arnold, whose career in TV was launched after she appeared in a Good Morning, America report about women with skeletal dysplasia who had professional careers. At the time, she was in the process of planning her wedding to New York businessman and fellow skeletal dysplasia patient William Klein, whom she’d met via a social website called DateALittle.com. After seeing the GMA spot, a producer from The Learning Channel got in touch, and subsequent discussions led to The Little Couple, which began airing in 2009. In its first year, the show averaged 1.1 million viewers per episode.
The popular series has documented struggles and celebrations in the couple’s personal lives (anniversaries, vacations, house hunting, fertility issues) and their professional lives—Bill runs a call center in New York City while Jennifer’s teaching and clinical duties at Texas Children’s Hospital keep her running.
Arnold’s work as medical director of the pediatric simulation center, she believes, can contribute to important advances in patient safety. “We know in health care that the leading causes of medical errors are problems in communication, teamwork, and leadership,” she says. “The great thing about high-tech manikins is not that they turn blue and have pulses—which is great—but that a team can actually care for their patient in a crisis, under time pressure, and really interact and work on those communication, teamwork, and leadership skills.”
Now that The Little Couple has started its fifth season, Arnold says that she and her husband both feel the series raises awareness about people with their condition and is, in her words, “a good thing.” Having unsuccessfully tried surrogacy to become parents, the couple now is pursuing adoption, seeking a little person infant. “I can’t tell you how far along we are in the process because my TV producers would probably kill me,” Arnold says with a laugh. Neil A. Grauer