Local veterinarian Jodi Sexton never expected to find herself in front of the camera.
A self-described introvert who doesn’t even like getting her picture taken most days, Sexton said the opportunity to appear on screen in a new Netflix documentary series was unexpected — especially given that she usually works with animals, rather than people.
Based on a New York Times Magazine column of the same name written by Dr. Lisa Sanders, “Diagnosis” crowdsources diagnoses for mysteries and rare medical conditions in humans in the hopes of finding solutions and treatment options.
“I’ve always been the most obnoxious person when anyone is in the hospital because I’m right there, micromanaging and asking questions of the people doctors. My family laughs because I say things like, ‘Well, if you were a poodle, it might be this,’ but that’s really what got me on the show,” said Sexton, who owned Calhoun’s Best Friends Animal Hospital for 20 years before selling the practice in 2016.
It all started back in April 2018. She was reading the latest “Diagnosis” column, which centered around a 23-year-old nursing student named Angel Parker. Parker was experiencing shooting pain in her legs and back, muscle cramping, fatigue and unexplainable dark-colored urine, and had been since she was 14. Dozens of doctors had tried and failed over a period of nine years to uncover and treat the disease causing Parker’s pain. None succeeded.
Sexton became “consumed” by the case right away.
“As a veterinarian, I started thinking about what animal diseases it sounded like. I realized it was pretty similar to a hereditary, metabolic disease in horses,” she said. “So, I wrote in and said, ‘Here is what I think this is, and here’s why.’ I was asked to write more, explaining exactly what I thought might be going on in her case.”
So, she did. Sexton said she received a call from producers at Netflix asking her to be part of the documentary series a few weeks later. In May, they gave her instructions on how to Skype in to them and record a call that they could use on the show, including specifics about what lighting should be like, how to sit, what to wear and how to answer questions.
“I talked to them for almost two hours that day in an interview format. Then there was a really long gap after that when I knew I was going to be on the show and couldn’t talk about it to anybody,” Sexton said. “The show only came out this August, so it was a long time to keep quiet.”
She found out by watching the show that Parker was finally diagnosed with carnitine palmitoyltransferase deficiency II, a condition that prevents the body from using certain fats for energy. The very rare condition is passed down genetically and is, indeed, similar to fatty acid oxidation problems seen in horses. Her pain can be managed by decreasing the amount of fatty acids she eats and increasing her sugar intake.
“I’m very happy they found out what was wrong,” Sexton said. “It’s just an example of what I think is so great about the column. Crowdsourcing is a really genius idea for medicine. I think there’s always something we can learn from talking and bouncing ideas off of each other.”
Appearing on the show hasn’t changed much for Sexton, who now works as a veterinarian at the Animal Hospital of Whitfield County. She still volunteers with the local school system, which she has done for several years, and teaches children about dog bite prevention and veterinary science as a career. The only thing different about her life now versus before is her renewed focus on writing, which she said she does daily for a secret project she is working on.
“I can’t talk too much about it right now, but I will say being on the show has opened other avenues of opportunity, particularly with writing. I’m going to try and focus on that a little more. I don’t want to be in front of the camera very much,” Sexton said. “It may be a package deal, but we’ll see what happens with it. I’m very excited.”