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

Willfully Determined

Yesterday I pushed myself to do more and to do different. I decided to be a 22 year old for a few hours, I just ignored the fatigue, took the pain meds, and went to back to back movies (7-11:30pm) with my sister, who didn’t think I could stay out late anymore. It was a gift to both of us to be able to spend that time together, just enjoying doing something that was so out of the norm.

Usually I sleep through 60-80% of movies anywhere we watch them, our basement, my room, the movie theater, other peoples houses… But last night I worked hard to stay awake, and I did a stellar job. My POTS/dysautonomia leaves my body unable to pump blood to my brain when I sit down for too long, so I fall asleep or pass out even if I’m loving a movie or having a great conversation with someone; but usually, if I move around or take a walk I start to feel much more human again and stay awake for at least 10-20 minutes 😉

My family asked me if I really had energy for this, and here is what I told them,

“No, I don’t have the energy, but this isn’t about energy.  This is about desire and determination.”

Sometimes I have to accept my symptoms, accept my situation, and make a choice to push past all of the exhaustion, pain, nausea, and sensitivities so that I can remind myself and those around me that I’m still me, and that there are still things out there, outside of my “safe zone” (aka my house and my room). Watching the world go on without you can be a very strange feeling, it’s like watching from an outside view, looking down on the life I thought would be mine and watching others continue on without me. The world doesn’t wait for anyone.

Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of “nothings” from doctors; some literally don’t have anything to say, don’t answer emails or calls or anything, others telling me they can’t take on my case or I’ve exhausted the options they can offer. It’s a lot of “keep you comfortable” and “manage symptoms.”

After so much of the same, I’m so tired of doctors and meds and tests or treatments that no one actually thinks will work. I want to live. I want to experience my youth, I want to really feel alive and I want to cross items off of my bucket list.

I want to travel and see incredible sites and take countless photos. I hope to visit all of the girls who I’ve met online, the ones who have helped me through these years of illness, and I want to meet new people, and fall in love. I want to get rid of these tubes so I can swim with dolphins and scuba dive, get as close to my mermaid dream as possible.

I have a lot of goals, and I may never accomplish all of them, but they make for some happy thinking & I never pass that up. 🙂

 

Newbie Tubies: How to Sponsor A Package

Time for a Newbie Tubie Update! I am so excited to share that Newbie Tubies has had a huge increase in the number of applications we have received for packages. This is fabulous news, I couldn’t be happier to have this project be so successful and to be able to help so many new tubies adjust to life with feeding tubes.

In all honesty, this huge increase in apps is also a bit overwhelming for me, as a tubie myself, being the one who goes through each application and has to approve or deny each applicant, each fellow tubie… it’s not an easy task! But when I finally get to begin picking out items and pack each package, specialized for each unique, first time tubie, I’m reminded of why this is important work, why I started this project in the first place.

Being able to do this is such a gift, it’s a gift for the tubies who receive the packages, but it also a gift to me and to anyone else who has the chance to experience what it is like to help others go through this strange and misunderstood transition.

Many people have offered support in a multitude of ways, but to share this incredible gift with more people, both tubies & “normal” /healthy people, or donors, I’ve decided to begin offering the opportunity to sponsor a tubie package. I will always take “blind” donations, but if you are interested in knowing where your money is going, or if you want to do the shopping yourself, I am so happy to share this experience with you.

I have applications for new tubies of both genders that range from ages 0-30years and sometimes older.If you’re interested in sponsoring someone close in age to you or your child, I can almost definitely find you an application that fits the bill. I will not be providing any personal information about the tubie, but I will provide a list of that individual’s interests as well as the “Tubie Shopping List” to help guide you in your shopping; you can also add in anything else that would fit in the package and make sense for your tubies age/gender.  After you shop, I would add in the tube items that you likely wouldn’t be able to get on your own as well as our tip lists, donor lists, and Newbie Tubie info before shipping it off.

This process is very similar to the angel tree or shoe box gifts you often see around Christmas time, but this is year round and a bit more specific. There will always be tubies in need of support; sadly, the medical system doesn’t always do a great job at preparing children, parents, young adults, etc. about the transition period to tube feeding or what it means long term. A lot can go unsaid which leaves a lot of room for confusion and unnecessary panic.

**With a donation of $25 or more, you are paying for shipping ($14) and helping pay for some of the extra items in the packages. $30-$45 would sponsor the whole package, all supplies and shipping.

***If you donate $25 or more, you can sponsor a package AND get a painting of your choice from the selection in this album, all of which are originals made by me, Positively Rachel’s Art.***

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I do, of course, accept monetary donations, as well; monetary donations play a vital role in covering shipping costs– each package costs $13 just to ship! So, whether it be $5 to help me buy a few new mini hand sanitizers or $50 to cover package & shipping (maybe more!), you’re helping make this project happen. For that, I am thankful, and you should feel good for helping others during a hard transitional period in their lives that (most of) you can be glad you won’t ever have to deal with. (knock on wood)

My artwork is where majority of Newbie Tubie funds come from; I sell abstract, acrylic paintings and notecards with prints of my art/photography as well as bags, onesies, shirts, and more with vinyl prints to spread awareness & raise funds! You can order my art through the blog or through private messaging (instagram, facebook, email), and I do take custom orders as well; all of my profits from the art sales go towards what supplies are not donated & shipping costs for Newbie Tubies.

The easiest way to donate or pay for paintings is through paypal (rajinone@aol.com), but I do take cash and checks as well.

This is a stellar opportunity to do something really meaningful, to pay it forward.

Help me by sharing this, if you’re a tubie/spoonie or if you’ve received one of my packages, share how the packages helped you, share a bit about the challenges or what you’ve learned in your journey.

Thank you for reading, donating/purchasing, and for supporting both the Newbie Tubie packages and my art.

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instagram: newbietubies (or) positivelyrachels_art
positivelyrachel.com


Facebook Art Sale/Sponsorship:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/…

How and What to Donate!

If you’re here, I think it is safe to say you have some interest in this project, and I’m sure we can find something you would like

I have created a list of some of the possible donations we could use, however there are endless options and each package is different depending on age, gender, and interests of each person!

Right now (Jan 17) I have an 18 year old male, a 31 year old mom with two kids under age 4, and three girls between ages 16-19 who like either blue or pink, horses or dogs, and glitter or bows.

There’s lots of differentiation, but they appreciate anything I can send them that is comfortable, tube related, age-appropriate, or simple things that relate to their interests.

 

Newbie Tubie Packages

Donations needed–

Care package items:
(Get on amazon, dollar store, Walmart/target,etc)

-Bath bombs, bath salts, natural soaps
-Self care/pampering goodies (face masks, nice body wash or lotion, dry shampoo, etc.)
-Cute hair ties, clips, headbands
-Mini lotions, germ x

-Soft blankets, socks, stuffed animals
-Coloring book/pens/colored pencils
-Small toys and goodies for kids

-Makeup sized bags (fit in purse/backpack)
-Inspirational quote books/journals
-Goal books, guided journals

Medical/health related:
(Walmart, drugstore, amazon)

-Heating pads (rice/microwave), heating stuffed animals
-pill crusher, pill splitter

Tube supplies:
(Found on Etsy, online)

-Tube clips (for long tubes)
-Cute medical masks
-Heating pads
-Tube belts
-Tubie pads

 

Pending projects

-I hope to begin making tubie friends, what we need for that –Sterile, unused button tubes, extensions, long tubes, etc.
other items used include stuffed animals, superglue, needle and thread — we have most of these, just need the tubes!

 

Anything else that will fit in a care package or help make a tubie feel more comfortable post-surgery/during their transition to tube feeding!

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I also accept re-gifting! If Christmas brought too many fuzzy socks and coloring books or one too many scented candle and bottle of the same old lotion, I’m happy to take anything off of your hands that you just wont use!

Spring cleaning brings about lots of unwanted (and unused) items. Donating to my project doesn’t usually come to mind first, but ewe appreciate these items, we need these donations as much or more than other organizations who take such items.

Just keep us in mind for your extra, package sized goodies.

Positively Rachel Art & Design: Sales for my own artwork and products I create are another fabulous option!  You can help us by purchasing a painting! Decorating your house can help us send a package to a new tubie! All profits go towards shipping and shopping costs for newbie tubies!

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If you are interested in making a monetary donation, my pay pal account is: rajinone@aol.com

You can contact me at positivelyrachel101@gmail.com  if you have any questions, want to mail or drop something off, etc.
For more information about ways to help with the project or just about how it came about, please check out the blog titled “The Start of Newbie Tubies” 🙂

Thank you!