We always knew I was different. Completely aware I was rare. Everyone has always made jokes about it here and there due to the silliness of it all. But it wasn’t until recently that it was discovered that I am one in 5,000-8,000 people rare. More rare than just a few extra parts. More rare than a strange combination of chronic illnesses.
This journey officially began this past fall with a bleeding flare. I was bleeding easily while on my normal steroid dose. It was irritating me enough to mention it to my doctor. After extensive research and dissing it all we agreed that EDS was a possibility. I was advised to see a geneticist. A three-month wait and a two-hour appointment appeared to be yet another dead end. The doctor was not educated enough in each type of EDS to accurately diagnose EDS. While I knew an EDS diagnose would not change my treatment plan I was extremely frustrated. I was left with no answers to my bleeding which was progressing and a bunch of symptoms that did not fit into a symptom list of any of my current illnesses.
While I knew an EDS diagnose would not change my treatment plan I was extremely frustrated. I was left with no answers to my bleeding which was progressing and a bunch of symptoms that did not fit into a symptom list of any of my current illnesses. (*Note there is still question if EDS is present).
I moved on as we all do when no answers are clear. I had a voicemail when I returned home one afternoon. Neither my mom nor I recognized the doctor’s name left for me, so I concluded they had the wrong person. I returned the phone call innocently without much thought. Little did I know it would change my life.
I was told I have HHT. This is the reason my POTS is out of control. Due to my migraines, I would need a brain MRI because they highly suspect that there is something linked to this illness present. Additionally, I would need testing on my heart. Just like that, she wished me a good day and the phone call was over.
I had three initials because the person I spoke with did not know how to pronounce the name. Hereditary Hemorrhagic Telangiectasia. Locating a description was a challenge. Gaining an understanding of the big picture of how this illness had been affecting my body for twenty-three years felt impossible.
“HHT is a hereditary disorder that is characterized by abnormal blood vessels. A person with HHT has a tendency to form blood vessels that lack normal capillaries between an artery and vein. This means that arterial blood under high pressure flows directly into a vein without first having to squeeze through very small capillaries. This place where an artery is connected directly to a vein tends to be a fragile site that can rupture and bleed.
An abnormality that involves a larger blood vessel is called an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). Some people with HHT will also have AVMs in one or more organs. AVMs occurring in the lungs and brain and can lead to serious complications. Everyone with HHT should undergo screening for lung and brain AVMs because if these are detected, they can be treated. The HHT Foundation recommends that all patients and families with HHT be assessed at an HHT Treatment Center for proper screening and treatment.”
From my reading, I learned that at least three genes are mutated in this disorder. There are far more questions than answers as there are with most rare diseases.One article reported less than a dozen doctors who specialize in this disease in America.
Plenty of testing needs to be conducted to give them a full picture of how this is affecting my body. So far a special hearing test/ doctor appointment is set up. We are waiting to see what heart tests should be run and how often. Lastly, a brain MRI will need to be approved by the insurance. This is half of my medical mess at the moment.
Coping With a Rare Disease:
I have coped with chronic illness by learning as much as possible, then educating others. However, it is impossible for me to gather the amount of information I desire because it simply does not exist. Therefore, my coping methods need to be adjusted. I am confident that connecting with the rare disease community will provide comfort for me. Furthermore, I am asking as many questions as I can come up with for my medical team and setting realistic expectations because they are learning with me.
Each illness comes with a set of emotional struggles. It is tempting to go numb but feeling the emotions is an important step in grieving. Each illness seems to shape our character. I am taking HHT along with all my illnesses one hour at a time with a smile and plenty of uncertain tears.
June is HHT Awareness month. “Light your candle with us on June 23rd – Global HHT Awareness Day – to honor those with HHT who bring light to the world.”