Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Mayo Clinic Update

We are done for the day and just had the evaluation with the cardiologist. In a nutshell: it takes a village. My aortic valve is slightly worse but my heart isn’t in bad shape to need surgery YET so that is great news, for now. However, I did have an elevated NT-Pro BNP which is indicative of heart failure but ever so mild and more to be used as a baseline.

I will be back September 5th for more tests. I will finally get my cortisol and metanephrines tested. I will have a CT angio and a 7 day heart monitor. The role for this doctor will mainly be to monitor my heart valve. We are ruling out any other structural abnormalities and then this information will be very helpful to the new neurologist that I will be seeing out of state in Arizona, unless Nashville opens up (first choice). The answers I am mostly looking for will be there, to better understand and treat my dysfunctional nervous system. The full genetic sequencing is another piece of the puzzle. There are a lot of pieces.

The valve is one issue but my nervous system is what causes the other heart problems, as well and many other issues. This is an ongoing process. It’s is an up an down roller coaster. At times, I am excited to get answers and the Cinderella hopefulness to find a way to magically be better. Oftentimes I find the sinking feeling of reality and logic settling in my stomach that there is no cure, just management. It’s impossible to accept and why I still try to search for more answers.

My health is like a domino effect: one issue causes another, then another… There is such a huge list of issues connected to connective tissue (disorders). This also makes it difficult to understand and diagnose, because it’s essentially a giant cluster fuck.

I will always continue searching because science advances, awareness spreads education, and advocacy feeds it all. I will continue to fight for myself but also for the future of others that will stand in my shoes one day. I hope the darkness in my life fuels the light that other seek.

Thank you for listening and for your support. Feel free to subscribe or to reach out if you ever need any help. It is my passion to lead other patients in the direction they need.I know exactly what it feels like to be lost, medically neglected, and dismissed.

Helpful Links:

http://www.dysautonomiainternational.org

https://www.ehlers-danlos.com

https://www.healthline.com/health/mast-cell-activation-syndrome

The Invisible Diaries

https://vimeo.com/292473119

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

If I Only Had a Heart

The #myedschallenge for today is “if you could rid yourself of one EDS symptom, what would it be?

Without a doubt, I would rid myself of heart issues. I will gladly take the pain, muscle aches and spasms, joint hypermobility, subluxations, migraines, gastrointestinal issues, brain fog and so on. I have always known my life with heart issues.

I remember playing on the softball team in 3rd grade, complaining of my heart racing. “Keep running, kid. That’s normal,” my coach said. It wasn’t until I was 15 when we realized my heart rate was hitting the 300s and I had SVT and WPW. I remember being in my 20s and dancing with my friends, periodically going to the bathroom stall to slow down my heart. I just wanted to be normal.

Between multiple surgeries, hospitalizations, ER visits and doctors appointments, these heart issues have robbed me of so much of my life. These heart issues affect me every day.

My heart valves leak and have hypertrophied, requiring an inevitable 2nd open heart surgery one day. I have already had 4 cardiac ablations and refuse to do a 5th as it would make me 100% pacemaker dependent. My aortic root is dilating, a common issue with EDS. While I worry about my heart rhythms, blood pressure, arrhythmias, and valves, I also have worry about the possibility of aortic dissection.

I put my hand on my heart, and though battery operated, I am still so grateful that it pumps. I am grateful that I am here to be a mother and a wife, to share my story, to raise awareness, advocate and educate. I am grateful to breathe in the warm Florida air, even while my heart races and my chest aches. But what I wouldn’t do for a healthy heart….

Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

I am not convinced

“I’m not convinced.”

Those were the words out of my decade-long relationship with my trusted electrophysiologist. I saw her on and off for 10 years during the moments I had insurance. I had 4 cardiac ablations for supraventricular tachycardia (SVT) from a congenital heart disorder called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, which is an extra electrical conduction pathway between chambers that cause arrhythmias. My heart rates would go up to 300s and drop down to the 30s. After four cardiac ablations and still having arrhythmias and fast heart rates, I could not take meds to slow down my heart since my rate would drop low too. I spent years in that position… in limbo without treatment and a chaotic heart.

My valves began to deteriorate as well, causing even more issues. I had open heart surgery for an aortic valve repair in 2011 and will need a replacement in the future, requiring open heart surgery again.

My trusted doctor, told me that it sounded like I was dealing with something that was too rare and not likely possible. She wasn’t convinced I could have another rare disorder. She denied me treatment. I was afraid to sleep at night, afraid that I wouldn’t wake up. Did you know you can pass out in your sleep? I finally collected my most recent 50 page heart event monitor report from the VP of the device company (my doctor would not give me the reports) and took it to another doctor. He ordered a Tilt Table Test and induced an episode and found that I had a severe cardioinhibitory response and confirmed that I needed a pacemaker, wondering why it took so long.

Two weeks later, my life changed. My heart rate doesn’t pause, stop or plummet and I can take meds to keep my heart rate from going too high. The pacemaker even kicks in to reduce arrhythmias.

The puzzle pieces all came together after seeing specialists and understanding why I was having a dysfunctional nervous system and irregular heart, chronic pain, chronic fatigue and an array of health issues. Genetic testing, research and being my own advocate helped more than anything. It took my entire life to get answers. I learned that I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that causes many of my health issues on top of WPW Syndrome. Having WPW made is harder to see that something more could be going on because everyone was focused on that.

I never want anyone else to ever have to go through what I have gone through. I never want anyone else to be medically neglected, dismissed or too rare for their doctor to be convinced. There is an entire world of people suffering in the dark. My mission is to change that. I raise awareness for those people that feel alone, lost and ignored while they fear for their lives, praying to wake up the next morning.

Thank you for listening!

Health, mental health

The Invisible Diaries Podcast and Show

I am so excited to announce the upcoming launch of a show with my dear friend Amber, called The Invisible Diaries! The show will be shedding light on invisible illnesses. We are going to interview guests as well.

If you are interested in being on our show, please emails us at theinvisiblediaries@gmail.com and introduce yourself.

Instagram and Facebook Daily Topics

  • Mental Health Monday – Mental health awareness, support and education
  • Teach Me Tuesday – Education, information and learning
  • Words of Wisdom Wednesday – Quotes and inspiration
  • Thankful Thursday – Focusing on the good and finding balance
  • Favorites Friday – Favorite things and product highlights

Stay tuned and follow us on social media for updates on our official launch!

Health, mental health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Rare Disease Day

It is Rare Disease Day so obviously I am jumping on this moment to raise awareness. I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and a rare type, called cardiac-valvular EDS or cvEDS.

Hypermobility is very common with EDS. There are many, many other health issues that fall under the umbrella due to this collagen defect. Imagine your joints are like rubber, frequently popping out of place from even just a hug or rolling over in bed. Sometimes these joints stay out of place or wear down. It is a painful disease to many.

This does not only affect joints but can also affect your organs.

We are all different and we call ourselves Zebras because in the medical field, doctors and nurses are trained that when they hear hooves to look for horses not zebras. This mentality has caused me to go undiagnosed and medically neglected for my entire life, up until I had genetic testing last year. Despite my heart issues and frequent ER visits, being young and seemingly healthy has had me labeled as drug seeking or having anxiety attacks.

The reason why is because EDS and dysautonomia (dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system) does not show up on routine blood work. I have never done drugs, besides cannabis, and even after open heart surgery and a broken sternum I did not even finish my pain meds prescription. I have been treated as if I were an IV drug user, because in my area that is the only reason someone of my age would have this extent of damage to their heart. I am so incredibly thankful to now be taken seriously with a diagnosis, but it is bittersweet because this syndrome is progressive and for me, my heart is always at risk. In my recent echo, I have developed a dilated aortic root. This is beyond scary to me because EDS, especially cvEDS comes with aneurisms. Dealing with this type of diagnosis as well as chronic pain and illness is mentally exhausting.

I am passionate about awareness is because it took so fucking long to be heard. I suffered for so long not taking proper care of myself and not knowing the correct treatments. I have been called a hypochondriac by exes and have hidden behind a mask for years. I want others to know they are not alone and I want medical professionals to see us.

Health, mental health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Waking Up in Pain

Mornings are hard. When you think of Sundays, you think of sleeping in and waking up to the sun finding it’s way to to you. You think of sitting up, a nice stretch and a moment to admire the open window sharing hints of a beautiful day.

The reality is that you wake up from pain. And you have woken up several times already but you hurt too much to go back to sleep and the sun is up now, so you may as well get out of bed. Lying in bed hurts. It isn’t this relaxing thing where you can leisurely sprawl out in bed and feel like you are on a cloud, melting into your mattress. No, you have to move because one position makes your tailbone go numb and another hurts your collarbone and lying on your stomach makes your back feel broken.

So, now you get up and everything pops back into place. Almost everything. Your left hand and lips are tingling and numb but it only last a few minutes. You walk to the bathroom, holding on to everything you pass for stability so that you don’t fall. Even when you sit down, reaching to wipe is excruciating and demoralizing. It breaks you just glimpsing into the future, wondering if are going to need help wiping your own ass one day. Then, as much as you want to crawl back into bed and melt into your significant other, you quietly walk out of the room so you can find something to do and walk off the pain of sleeping.

Your head is killing you and you are nauseous as if you are hungover. As you walk to the kitchen, everything fades away and you can’t see. Your body starts to feel fuzzy and go numb, just like before you pass out. You don’t typically fully pass out so you know you can just keep walking through it as long as you hold on the way there. You are a pro and have smiled and held conversations while on the brink of passing out but you know it passes and this is your norm.

When pain levels are high, your morale is low. Your dreams and ambition slide over to the back burner. Sometimes they even get put away into Tupperware to decay in the back, hidden behind the fruit. Sometimes the sunshine creeping in through the window looks so far away. But you just get through this. You hold on to the idea of your next good day, whenever that may be. You find hope in new remedies and whatever ways you can try to have control over your health. You find hope in the people who support you and your loved ones.

*On the pain scale of 1-10, I have never been under a five. My one is a five. I am not wanting sympathy but what I am wanting is to be honest about how I feel instead of hiding with an autopilot response of “I’m fine.” I want to raise awareness for people like me so they don’t feel alone, and for people without chronic pain so that they can understand their loved one or friend. We live in a world of sucking it up and smiling through the pain. We are suppressed and depressed with a bottled soul. It isn’t right. Be real and let others be real so they they aren’t lost and alone.

mental health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Are You Still In There?

When bad days turn into weeks. When your strengths are suffocating. When your dreams drift too far. When nothing seems fair. When tears turn into fears. When you get lost. When you feel defeated. When you stop feeling. You aren’t alone.

Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

The Grey Area of the Medical Field

The grey area is a state that doesn’t live on one side or the other. It is nomadic and intermediate; the blurry line.

The grey area is where many undiagnosed, dismissed and neglected health issues live. For some, they got tossed back and forth between doctors and never really helped by any, or are just getting by with the small crumbs of progress over a span of time.

The grey area is also the wait. It’s waiting for the inevitable, irreversible and impending progression of a particular diagnosis. It’s knowing a risks but having no control or peace of mind. Sometimes you float in between acceptance and anger.

The grey area is where the people who don’t fit in the one-size-fits-all category call home.

Many of us only know the grey area, constantly hoping someone will understand us or send out a rescue team to bring us in.

Awareness is for us, in the grey area, looking to fit in somewhere, to make sense, to have answers, to not be neglected or alone.

Share your fire until it lights up the sky, defining a new meaning and growing into a new path where those who were once lost can be found.

Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

February Heart Awareness Month – My Heart Story

As you know, awareness is my passion. February is Black History Month (current read: Maya Angelo Poems) and also American Heart Month. I want to share my heart story in hopes to inspire and educate.

I was born with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, meaning that I had an extra pathway between my heart’s upper and lower chambers. This pathway cause rapid heart rates.

I was undiagnosed until my first cardiac ablation at the age of 19. Most of my childhood, I complained that my heart was racing but my softball and basketball coaches, P.E. teacher and most adults said that it was normal when you are running around. Well, it was normal for me alright.

Eventually, my face started to turn bright red during episodes and white around my eyes and lips. It was exhausting, but once again, it was my normal. I loathed gym class. To get out of it, I would go to the school nurse and tell her I didn’t feel well. At 15, I took my usual stroll to the nurse’s office to get out of P.E. and after looking at my face, she was prompted to take my pulse; it was too fast to count. She called an ambulance but my fast rhythm had converted to a normal rhythm by the time they showed up. It was difficult to catch the arrhythmias so my parents and doctor met and decided an event monitor was best. Within the hour of getting home from the doctors visit, my arrhythmias kicked in and we sent it in right away. I was having Supraventricular Tachycardia with rates over 250 beats per minute, nearing the 300s.

After being told I would outgrow SVT (which I had since I can remember), I found they were wrong and it only got worse. My heart would go into these arrhythmias about five times every hour, all day, sometimes lasting up to 30 minutes. At the age of nineteen, I finally have my first cardiac ablation. This procedure lasted six and a half hours! Normally, it only takes 45 minutes to an hour and a half, but they discovered the extra pathway and I was a difficult case. Since it was unsuccessful, we tried again in six weeks. Though my episodes were reduced, I still had arrhythmias and had two more ablations, a total of four cardiac ablations.

My heart would drop into the 30s and 40s and shoot up near the 200s, all day and night, with no rhyme or reason. I always asked what caused all my health issues no one cared to investigate. In my early twenties, I was also diagnosed with (POTS) Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome but never spoke of it again. I had no idea what that meant and was uneducated by my doctor, therefore I never managed it. I didn’t stay hydrated and I was told to avoid salt, when really I needed a high salt diet. I spent my entire 20s with roller coaster heart rates and a lack of education about my health, as well as missing puzzle pieces to what was causing my chronic health issues.

In 2011, at the age of 26, I had open heart surgery. Prior to this, I went to multiple ER visits and appointments but they were looking for SVT and high heart rates, not a leaky aortic valve. I spent years being dismissed as they refused to look further. After finally getting an echo, I was diagnosed with moderate to severe aortic insufficiency. No doctor in my area wanted to touch me and when one hesitantly suggested to operate, I did not trust his confidence. I joined Heart Valve Surgery group online for support and found Kevin Accola, the most incredible surgeon in the area.

Dr. Accola said, “wow, what an interesting case! I can’t wait to find out what is going on and fix it! When is good for you?” I about cried in disbelief that someone cared and wanted to help. We scheduled a date. He informed me that he would do his best to repair my heart to avoid an artificial valve so that I didn’t need to be on harsh meds my entire life. He showed me the valve I would get just incase I needed one. I held it in my hands, the metal piece that could go into my heart… the heart that my doctor was going to have in his hands. Fortunately, he was able to repair a hole in my aortic valve and with a three inch incision instead of the classic nine inch sternotomy.

Healing was tough but pretty smooth. I had almost accidentally overdosed on pain meds. I was supposed to have someone taking care of me for the first two weeks and with a broken sternum and sensitive heart rhythm, I was pretty out of it and couldn’t keep track. I also had a hard time with my breathing and started to get fluid in my lungs but worked hard with my spirometer and by three months, I was feeling back to myself. I did reject the sternum wires and needed to get them removed as they were about to come out on their own!

In January of 2017, I was having scary arrhythmias and my body was going into shock. I was in the ER every other night for two months. My arrhythmias were not getting caught at the ER so they diagnosed me with anxiety and panic disorder, sending me home. I saw several doctors but once you get (mis)diagnosed and labeled, it is hard to be taken seriously. I finally got an event monitor from my cardiologist to record my rhythms for a few weeks. I passed out leaving an appointment and it was caught on the monitor. My doctor ordered a Tilt Table Test and triggered an episode. I was diagnosed with Neurological Syncope, where my heart rate would randomly plummet. With my nighttime heart rate dips into the low 40s and occasional 30s, I finally got a pacemaker in June of 2018. Truth be told, I could have used one a decade ago, when I had documented ER visits with rates in the low 30s. However, I stuck with the same doctor and never got outside options previously.

A few of my main health issues are caused by Dysautonomia, the dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system. In 2018, I was finally diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.

As of today, my latest heart update is that I have been having tachycardia in my sleep, picked up on my pacemaker checks. My recent echo showed that three of my heart valves leak mildly and my aortic valve leaks mild to moderate. Both my aortic and mitral valve have sclerosis (calcification and thickening). My aortic root is mildly dilated, which could be the start of an aortic aneurism. Aneurisms are fairly common with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.

At some point, I will need my valve replaced (at the very least). I decided to go with a pig valve to avoid the meds and because I rejected the sternum wires last time. I also have a genetic mutation MTHFR which can possibly be the cause of metal sensitivities, and another mutation that causes me not to metabolize Warfarin, a common med used to thin your blood after a heart valve replacement. Fortunately, I didn’t need the artificial valve earlier, before I found out about these mutations.

And now we watch and wait. Having a lifetime of heart issues is a scary thing to live with. Knowing that age is nothing but a number for me, and irrelevant, is a hard pill to swallow. Being told I am “young and healthy” is something I hear often. Even with my health history, I still have a hard time being heard. This is why advocacy and being educated on your health, is so important. I truly believe that I would be dead if I hadn’t fought to be heard.

Keep up with your medical check ups and get copies of all of your tests and labs. Ask questions, get second opinions and educate yourself and your family. If you don’t like your hairstylist, you go to a different salon, right? So why do we act stuck with whatever doctor we are handed but will so easily get a new stylist? Find a doctor that you trust and feel comfortable with. Be a teammate with your health plan and don’t give up when you feel dismissed. Find a support group online because you will learn more from them than your physician.

Spread awareness, educate yourself and others, and advocate for your health. You got this!