By CraShundra Richardson
One Sunday in September 2015, I remember making dinner and then I wasn’t hungry enough to eat it. The next three days, I spent in bed with no appetite and no energy. It was then that I decided I would go get checked out. I went to see the doctor the following week. My doctor recommended routine blood work, since it had been three years since I’d last had any done.
“That evening I went for a walk and took a shower. Something told me to get on Facebook. I started scrolling a see a picture that one of my cousins posted of a young girl, who was probably in her late 20s. The caption said, “RIP Peanut.” My heart started racing! Something about this post felt different. Come to find out, she was a cousin of mine who knew nothing about pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), but had just two months prior given birth to a baby boy. She started having heart complications and died. I said to myself in that moment, “I have to make sure I do not have pulmonary hypertension (PH).”
I was going the following day for my blood test results, and I was relieved. The doctor did notice a few things: my thyroid levels and my red blood cell (RBC) count were high, and my blood was viral. I knew those words…I had heard them from her before. I said, ”I think you said the same thing to me three years ago,”…and in fact she had. But those results had nearly tripled since then. I was given medication for my thyroid and referred to the cancer clinic for my RBC count. But while I was there, I said, ”My family has a history of pulmonary hypertension, can you also refer me to a heart doctor?”
“The next few weeks were a slew of tests at the cancer institute, and they were beginning to believe I had some form of sleep apnea. After I was referred to a sleep clinic, my mom and I went to have lunch. I was at the Olive Garden restaurant when I got a call from the cardiologist, who said that I could be seen on Monday, Columbus Day. My kids were promised a day off at the bowling alley, so I headed to the cardiologist with kids in tow. The nurse did an EKG, while the kids waited right there in the room with me. The doctor immediately noticed it was highly abnormal and wanted to schedule an ECHO the following day. I agreed and tried to enjoy the rest of the day with the kids. It was hard, I felt uneasy.
“After the kids were on the bus on following day, I headed to my ECHO. I’d had the ECHO and was waiting for the doctor. After several minutes of waiting, in walks a doctor, two nurses and an orderly. My heart sank as he said, ”You have an extremely enlarged heart. My guess is you have hypertension. Don’t eat salt, don’t jump, don’t run. If you feel out of breath at any moment go directly to the ER. I will get you a referral to a pulmonologist right away.” I went to my car and cried uncontrollably. All I could think about was that my kids will grow up without a mother.
I was being referred to Vanderbilt Medical Center, but in the meantime, I was having other tests done to transfer with my medical records. My appointment at Vanderbilt would not be until February of the next year.
We traveled to Florida for the holidays and spent Christmas with family. The Sunday night after Christmas, I got an awful headache. I felt like I had been hit with the flu. I stayed in bed all day Monday, but by Tuesday, I was short of breath getting up going to the bathroom. It continued to get worse as the day went on. My husband took me to the ER, and I was admitted with an oxygen rate of 80. I spent a week in the hospital on oxygen and no appetite. My body was no longer tolerating this disease I had been carrying, unknowingly for a few years.
By the time I was able to see the doctor in Vanderbilt, I was down 30 pounds. She said my best source of medication was “the pump.” I didn’t want people to see the pump and know there was something wrong with me or ask a lot of questions, but the Veletri was the best thing for me. The doctors were wonderful, and I am not on oxygen. I’m working and raising my children. I’m currently writing a book and creating a blog, so that I can tell my full story. I’m so glad my children can see their mom LIVE with PH!