Tuesday, June 7, 2011

June Is National Myasthenia Awareness Month!

I have been dealing with this disease called MG for about 16 years now. I was not "officially" diagnosed until July of 2003, when a new test for a specific kind of MG (Musk+ MG or MMG) came out. I started having symptoms about 6 months after having chronically infected tonsils removed in 1995.

Many things happened to me that should have killed me. First, the carbon dioxide levels in my blood were at levels that should have required a ventilator, yet I was still working full time. By the time they realized this and put my on oxygen 24/7, I literally got high from the initial oxygen because my brain was so starved for it. It is unfathomable, except by the grace of God, that I did not have brain damage (no comments from the peanut gallery, please!) : )Then, while in the hospital, the first 10 days were touch and go. They were not sure I would survive. I contracted staph pneumonia (MRSA), and had to be intubated and removed from the ventilator if I was to survive. It was a long, uphill battle.

I became diabetic from the huge doses of steroids there were giving me to save my life, and was in a wheelchair when I left the hospital. I walked with a walker after that. I also came home on a feeding tube, because I was not strong enough to swallow yet.

The kind of MG that I have, MuSK+, effects about 7 people out of a million. (Okay so I'm not one in a million...) Some of the symptoms are:

*Double vision
*Drooping or even closing of the eyelids from weakness
*Swallowing difficulties, frequent choking
*Weakness of the intercostal and diaphragmatic muscles, which means lying on the back is nearly impossible (if you want to breathe, anyway)
*Hoarseness and changes in voice
*Weakness or paralysis that worsens as the day progresses
*Facial paralysis (all of the muscles in my face were so slack everyone at work kept asking me why I was so angry...I just couldn't smile because none of the muscles worked anymore)*Temporarily absent breathing
*Sustained difficulty breathing
*Drooping head (as neck muscles are too weak to hold it up)
*Poor posture
*Difficulty climbing stairs
*Difficulty lifting objects
*Difficulty talking (slurring words, inability to enunciate clearly)
*Difficulty producing the right words when needed
*Difficulty chewing
*Fatigue
*Overall, generalized weakness
*Weak muscle tone
*Muscle pain (due to atrophy from not using muscles enough)
*Frequent clumsiness and poor balance
*Frequent dropping of items due to weak grip

I can honestly say I have or have had all of the symptoms. It is not fun. A crisis situation (like when I was hospitalized) can occur at any time. A person with MG may be fine when they get up in the morning, and collapse for "no" reason in the afternoon. I have actually fallen off the toilet because my leg muscles just gave out. You don't really think that you're using a lot of muscle by simply sitting on the toilet, but you'd be surprised! (You can laugh, it's funny NOW!)

Before I was hospitalized, my right hand had atrophied so much it was curled up into my body, and I looked like a stroke victim. I had to prop my head up with my elbow on the table because I couldn't hold my head up.

Fast forward: Glory to God, I now have a brilliant, fascinating, perfectly healthy son, Jacob, who will be 5 in August. Having him was the most difficult thing I've ever done. One-third of myasthenic women actually IMPROVE during pregnancy, one-third stay the same and one-third get worse. Yup, you guessed it, I got worse. By my 4th month, I could no longer speak clearly. Because I was so high-risk (35, the MG, diabetic) when I started going to the doctor I had to go every 2 weeks. At 30 weeks I started going every week, and at 34 weeks, twice a week.

Jacob was born with transient (temporary) neo-natal MG. He was on a vent for 3 weeks, and in the NICU for a total of 5. He went home 5 weeks to the day he was born. I bawled every day having to leave him in that hospital...my only comfort was knowing that he would be fine, because as soon as MY antibodies worked out of his system he would be completely healthy. And is he ever! He is the picture of health. Thank you God!

For treatment, I take CellCept, which is actually an anti-rejection drug taken by organ transplant recipients. It lowers my hyper-immune system, and keeps some of the MG symptoms at bay. I also take Prednisone, which has the same purpose.I go to St. Mary's Hospital in Grand Rapids for plasmapheresis 3x a week every 5-6 weeks. During plasmapheresis, they put a needle in each arm, take the blood out through one, run it through a machine (basically a fancy centrifuge) which removes the plasma from my blood, add new, "clean" plasma, warm the blood back up, and put it back into the other arm.

For those of you who donate blood and plamsa, THANK YOU. You have literally saved my life. For those of you that haven't but are able, PLEASE donate. You can truly and completely save a life. Without plasmapheresis, I would not be alive.I have absolutely no doubts that God saved my life for a purpose. And if that purpose is simply to tell others that they can get through hard times, that's what I will do. I never thought I could have a child. I never thought I could raise a child. But trust me, "ALL things are possible for him who believes."

If you are interested in supporting Myasthnia Gravis research, you can check out the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America website at www.myasthenia.org

I would like to say one last thing: If you or someone you know has a chronic illness, you can do one of several things: first of all, pray for them. Being chronically ill is lonely, isolating and depressing. If you can't always "see" their illness (many times, other than the trach, I look perfectly normal) please don't assume they are crazy, or nothing is wrong with them. You have no idea the hell they may be going through. Secondly, and very importantly, please don't judge. We are not just fat, lazy, unmotivated people who park in handicapped parking because we can't waddle to the front door. We are, first and foremost, people. People like you, who are just a little different. People who are dealing with excruciating circumstances, and may not have the energy to walk to the car after a trip around the store.

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please join me in praying for a cure.

2 comments:

Rachel said...

Your blog has so many followers, you have touched many lives by sharing your experiences with MG. Some heartbreaking, some funny as heck. I have learned so much from your strength and strong will. Thank you for all the encouragement you have given me to fight my MG battle.

journeysofcommitment said...

Kerri, I had no idea what MG was until stumbling upon your blog. Thank you for sharing and creating awareness. I am touched by your hope, a hope that clearly abounds from the grace of God. I'm so glad you're sharing your voice in this space, and in this way.