Who are Genetic Counselors?
Genetic counselors are healthcare professionals who are trained in genetics and counseling. Typically, they have a master's degree and are certified by the American Board of Medical Genetics or the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Jessica G. Davis, M.D., a clinical geneticist, and a team of genetic counselors, led by Zipora Eckstein, Senior Genetic Counselor, work as part of a highly skilled team in Maternal-Fetal Medicine that offers diagnostic evaluation and therapy.
Genetic counseling is available for pregnant women and those who want to become pregnant. The counseling is intended to help them understand genetic disorders and potential genetic disorders that might concern today's families.
Our Genetic Counselors
Nelly Oundjian, M.D., is a clinical geneticist in The Valley Hospital’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine Department. She received her medical degree from University of Aleppo in Syria. Dr. Oundjian completed her residency at Harlem Hospital Center, and her fellowship at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. She is board certified by the American Board of Medical Genetics.
Zipora Eckstein, MS, CGC, is the senior genetic counselor in The Valley Hospitals Maternal-Fetal Medicine department. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from The Hebrew University, and her Master of Science degree in human genetics from Sarah Lawrence College. Zipora is board certified in genetic counseling.
Judith Durcan, MS, CGC, is a genetic counselor in The Valley Hospitals Maternal-Fetal Medicine department. She received her Master of Science degree in human genetics from Sarah Lawrence College. Judith is board certified in genetic counseling.
What Does a Genetic Counselor Do?
Genetic counselors perform many functions, all intended to provide patients with information about current or potential health concerns based on a family's history, test results and fetal ultrasound findings.
If a specific diagnosis has been reached, the genetic counselor discusses the diagnosis with the patient in detail, providing information on the cause and treatment, and answering questions. The counselor provides information on the chances of passing the condition on to children. The counselor also furnishes information on tests and modes of therapy available to the patient and the family.
The genetic counselor is non-judgmental. He or she outlines all of the healthcare options available and then supports the patient's decision on how to proceed.
What Kind of Information Can They Provide?
Genetic counselors can help people with questions about genetic concerns affecting their families.
A genetic counselor can provide information about birth defects such as congenital heart disease, a cleft lip or mental retardation. A counselor can also provide information about genetic diseases that affect children and adults, including cystic fibrosis, fragile X syndrome, hemophilia, hearing loss, neurofibromatosis and Huntington's disease.
A genetic counselor can give information about the following:
- nuchal translucency a first trimester prenatal screening test for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down syndrome;
- prenatal tests, such as amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling (CVS);
- abnormal maternal serum screen;
- concerns about possible occurrence/recurrence of diseases that run in families, such as cystic fibrosis or hearing loss;
- family history of mental retardation, such as fragile X syndrome; birth defects, such as cleft lip or congenital heart disease; or chromosomal abnormalities, such as Down syndrome;
- maternal medical diseases, such as seizure disorders or insulin dependent diabetes;
- maternal exposure to radiation, infections, medications, drugs or alcohol; and
- recurring miscarriages.
Are Some People Genetically Prone to Birth Defects?
Yes, some ethnic groups are more likely to develop certain diseases or carry genetic abnormalities than other members of the general population. Special tests to determine this likelihood are available:
- People of Eastern European Jewish descent may carry several non-working genes that could lead to diseases such as Tay-Sachs, an inherited fatal disorder that affects the function of the brain and the central nervous system.
- African-Americans are prone to carrying the non-working gene for sickle cell anemia, an inherited disorder of the red blood cells.
- People of Italian-Mediterranean descent can carry the non-working gene for thalassemia, an inherited abnormality of hemoglobin that results in severe anemia.
- People of caucasian ancestry may carry the non-working gene for cystic fibrosis, a disorder of the exocrine glands.
People who carry one non-working gene are healthy. The problem occurs when both parents pass the same non-working gene to their offspring. When that happens, the child develops the disease or disorder.
Are Family Histories Important in Predicting Some Diseases?
Yes, some diseases run in families. These may include cancer, hearing loss, mental retardation, myotonic dystrophy, hemophilia, kidney disease and certain heart conditions.
How Can I Help My Genetic Counselor?
You can help by providing your genetic counselor with as much accurate information as possible on the health condition of your family. Bring documentation, if you can, including X-rays, medical records and laboratory results, on those family members with known genetic conditions. If you have photos of those family members, bring them too.
To make optimal use of your time and the counselor's, write down your questions and concerns and bring them to your counseling session. Feel free to speak openly and to discuss any pertinent topic during your counseling session. Remember, everything you share with your counselor is confidential.
Bring a member of your family or a close friend if you feel you need support.
After your counseling sessions, be sure to advise your genetic counselor of any changes in your family's health history. Maintain periodic contact with your counselor. Research into genetics takes place daily and often new research technology may provide information which can improve the lives of family members afflicted with genetic disorders.
Be sure to share information from your genetic counselor with relatives. Sometimes information you learn from your counselor can affect their health or influence their family-planning decision.
Why Should I See a Genetic Counselor?
Genetic conditions are not rare. About 10 percent of adults and 30 percent of children in hospitals today have genetic-related conditions.
If you need an Obstetrician/Gynecologist, please click here to view those on Valley's medical staff.
The Valley Hospital offers a wide array of women's and children's services, including The Center for Childbirth, The Fertility Center, Maternal-Fetal Medicine, The Center for Family Education, Pediatrics, and The Kireker Center for Child Development. Maternal and Child Health services are provided in the home by Valley Home Care.