Chronic Illnesses: Who Knows?

In the past few months I’ve seen increased frequency and severity in my symptoms and even new symptoms coming to light. When I have flare ups or new issues I often become more aware of my current physical state, and ironically, while doing so, I usually think I’m better off until these harsh realizations, moments of brutality that shine a light on the fact that no, I’m not better, I’m actually worse, but I’ve just gotten used to being sick, used to this flare up that just never left, that became my new “normal.”

Though I’m used to high levels of pain, severe nausea, frequent migraines, fatigue, etc. when I wake up and have new symptoms or symptoms I’ve had before all of a sudden “amplified,” it can be super frustrating, discouraging – not to mention painful. But when these “flare ups” come about and decide to stick around for more than a day or two, the mind starts to wonder….

Is this a flare? Are these symptoms going to go back to “normal?” Is there something more serious going on?

Pain is a hard thing to talk about and understand because everyone has a different relationship with pain, everyone’s “scale” is their own – my 6 could be your 9 for example – and you can’t really know what anyone else’s is unless you’re living it. My pain has been a totally new phenomenon the last couple weeks, my body is searing, my head is killing me, it’s just relentless. This pain is different from my “normal” pain, though, so it’s kind of hard to compare them severity wise, it’s hard to simplify it to a word like “throbbing, stabbing, burning, etc.” or a number 1-10 – I’m in severe pain and discomfort all over my body and it won’t give me a break — I wish that were enough to figure out a way to help, right?

“What concerns me the most is the unknown….it is just too overwhelming to think about…”

When my symptoms cause me to be even more “disabled” than normal, when I can’t get up or out of the house for a week or more, I’m hardly able to be around others because of the pain and stimulation, and I’m sleeping excessively or unable to sleep at all, it can be hard to find motivation, hard to force yourself to get up and get going, doing something as simple as shower or change into fresh pjs…

“No one really explained to me the depth or the magnitude of that diagnosis, no one explained how serious and life changing this chronic illness can be….”

There are so many unknowns with chronic illnesses, and most of us learn all about that through personal experiences, not from doctors or even google doctor! Living with conditions that even doctors don’t know enough about can be scary, all of a sudden everything you know is just swept out from underneath you, you’re left with so little understanding and no control over your own body, your own life. This is all shocking, it’s devastating, and you have got to find a way to embrace it, conquer it, and grow right along side it, otherwise, it will break you through and through, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, mind, body, and soul.

The Rarest of Guest Bloggers: SMA Syndrome

My name is Danielle and I am 26 years old. Growing up I suffered with ongoing stomach issues and doctors just couldn’t seem to figure out a cause. These symptoms would come and go in waves and there were even periods of time where I would begin thinking I was doing okay! Sadly, those times were short lived and when my senior year of college came about, things took a turn for the worst.

In 2015, I became very ill. It began with my endometriosis creeping back in and that was followed with my gallbladder needing to be removed, and despite those things, I continued to progressively get worse – especially stomach wise. I was having severe abdominal pain when I ate, nausea, vomiting, early satiety (I would take a few bites of food and feel overly full instantly), bloating and weight loss. I was only 105 lbs to begin with so I didn’t have any weight to lose so things became critical rather quickly.

In February of 2016 I was hospitalized because at this point I was not able to keep anything down, not even water. I had dropped to 90 lbs rather quickly and we were very scared. My doctor had run so many tests but could not figure out what was wrong with me, until he happened to be in the right place at the right time. He was at clinic where he overheard a nurse, who isn’t typically at that clinic, talking about another girl who had just been diagnosed with this rare condition. He immediately thought it sounded very similar to me so as soon as he was done at clinic, he came directly to the hospital and went to the radiologist. He told the radiologist to relook at one of my CT scans but from a different angle.

They immediately saw the problem and he came up to my room where he finally looked at me and said “I figured out what is wrong with you. You have SMA Syndrome,” otherwise known as Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome.

This condition, SMAS, I’ve never heard of it, I don’t know what is hitting me and how it is going to change things, what my life will look like now, all I know is it is rare, and though it has terrible symptoms, it can be very hard to detect. I had numerous CT scans but until they specifically looked for the compression itself, they were missing it on my scans for the longest time even though it was right there. The compression can be seen on CT scans, angiograms and upper GI studies with barium.

SMAS is an extremely rare and potentially life threatening stomach condition in which the third portion of your small intestine (duodenum) becomes compressed between your abdominal aorta and Superior Mesenteric Artery.

In other words, part of your small intestine becomes crushed and food is not able to pass through, creating a blockage.

This can lead to severe malnutrition, sometimes resulting in death. The mortality rate for SMA Syndrome is so high (1 in 3) because it is so rare and often times there is a delay in diagnosis. As you can see from my story, I was extremely lucky that he found it when he did or otherwise I might not have been here typing this today.

So how is SMAS treated? There is no cure.

There are also 2 types of this condition. One being acute onset, caused by extreme/sudden weight loss often following something like scoliosis surgery. The other being chronic, meaning it develops over the course of their lifetime. Surgery can be done to relieve the compression, or sometimes gaining weight (usually via feeding tubes) can also relieve the compression and allow food to start passing through again. However the damage done before it is found cannot be reversed and often times the symptoms can still remain even after surgery or weight gain, which is why there is technically no cure. In acute cases, the prognosis is better and oftentimes weight gain is enough to correct it and relieve the symptoms.

Chronic cases are a bit different, these cases are where the symptoms can still remain even after medical intervention, they aren’t easily treatable and there is absolutely no cure. That was the case for me. As soon as I was diagnosed I was immediately put on TPN (total parenteral nutrition) to help get me stable enough and I had surgery within 3 weeks. Since then, I have continued to have an avalanche of problems and my symptoms have remained. I continue to have pain with eating, nausea, vomiting, bloating and severe motility issues. The damage done to my body from SMA Syndrome has caused the entire rest of my GI tract to slow down and not function properly, so I have developed other chronic motility issues from it as well (such as Gastroparesis and intestinal dysmotility), which sadly is often the case for many people diagnosed with SMAS.

After numerous attempts to try and get things under control, I had to get a feeding tube placed in my abdomen to help give me the vital nutrition I need to sustain myself. I had a surgical GJ tube placed a year ago. I also am currently on TPN through a central line (port) in my chest due to the severity of my motility issues at the moment and not being able to tolerate my tube feeds right now. So often times feedings tubes are needed even after surgery to help manage the symptoms that remain and to help sustain individuals with SMA Syndrome.

Getting a feeding tube can be very overwhelming. It isn’t easy to process what it is like to have a tube surgically implanted into your body and it is a huge adjustment.

But what made the transition easier for me when I had my surgery was Newbie Tubies. I came across Newbie Tubies on instagram (@newbietubies) and saw that they create packages for people who are getting feeding tubes that are filled with all sorts of awesome things to help someone recover from the procedure and different items for the new tube as well.

The goal is to make the transition easier for someone by sending them a package to brighten their day. You can apply yourself or you can nominate someone to receive a package.

 

When I recieved my package it had things such as a blanket, water bottle, socks, handmade heating pad, tubie pads to decorate and protect the tube, bath bombs and a coloring book. It also included a list of tips for living with a feeding tube for those who are getting their first tube. Also, everything was donut and dog themed to fit my personality, which can be noted on the application to make each package more personalized to the recipient.

I cannot express how much receiving that package meant to me when I returned home from the hospital and how much it lifted my spirits. Newbie Tubies is truly amazing and it is creating an awesome community of fellow “tubies” on social media. It is awesome to be able to connect to others who have feeding tubes as well because you can relate to them and also share tips and tricks with each other to help make living with a feeding tube more manageable.

So if you have a feeding tube, are getting one or know someone with one please go check out Newbie Tubies on instagram. Or even if you just want to help, you can donate money or items to go in the packages sent out. So please check it out!
I share my story and my experiences with SMAS with hope that it will help someone else find their diagnosis and know they aren’t alone in this journey. It can be incredibly hard finding any answers, and I know that if it weren’t for individuals working to spread awareness through social medias and the stories others have shared, I wouldn’t have been diagnosed, I would have continued suffering without answers for much longer.

SMAS is an extremely rare condition, and because of how rare it is it is and due to overlaps with symptoms of many other stomach conditions, it often isn’t thought of. Not a lot of doctors know much about this rare disease, most of the time they have only read about it in textbooks during medical school, but each patient, each case, is unique and complex, not one fitting the case studies or textbooks perfectly.

I had no idea what it was until I was diagnosed, so I hope that reading my story can help someone else out there and just educate more people about this condition. For more information about SMA Syndrome, you can go to https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/7712/superior-mesenteric-artery-syndrome.

 

Post by Dani Fantaskey — guest blogger and newbie tubie package recipient


 

Thank you Dani!! Your post is fabulous and I am SO glad your package made such an impact on you – seeing your positive remarks truly inspires me to keep working hard to individualize each package. I love doing it, so I’m glad it doesn’t go unnoticed 🙂 So happy to have you, keep in touch and I’d love to have you back involved with the project anytime! Lots of love!

If anyone has questions or comments for her, comment below or contact me and I will get you in touch with her 🙂

xoxo

Rachel