6 posts tagged “member”

“Hope makes us strong.” – An interview with ALS caregiver Cathy

Posted February 12th, 2016 by

Meet Cathy (Catrin), who became a caregiver for her husband after he was diagnosed with bulbar onset ALS in January of 2015. As she learns to manage the dual roles of wife and caregiver, she has turned to the PatientsLikeMe community for help, encouragement and hope.

We took time to connect with her recently and this is what we learned… 

Tell us a bit about your life. How has it changed in the year since your husband’s diagnosis of ALS?

Living in suburban Nashville, my husband and I were enjoying his retirement. A former journalist and Corporate Communications Executive, we were busy keeping tabs on our family. One son living in our area, one son finishing college in Michigan and a daughter in Chicago. Before the diagnosis, we loved to take road trips. Before the diagnosis my husband loved to cook, he loved sitting on the patio, talking, drinking a beer and he loved to talk. His stories were endless. Being married to him for many years, I would, at times, roll my eyes. I had heard those stories many times before. But I loved them, nonetheless. Now, in the year since the diagnosis, we have all the kids back in Nashville. After learning their Dad was living with ALS, the kids packed their bags and moved home. We don’t take road trips anymore. His head drop makes travel uncomfortable. I am now learning to cook, hubby doesn’t eat anymore. We sit on the patio, but there is no beer. He still tells his stories, a bit, the text to speech “representative” tells them for him. I don’t roll my eyes anymore when I hear them. Now, I close my eyes and listen.

You’re new to being a caregiver. What is the most challenging thing about it?

Because I am a caregiver for my husband, the biggest challenge for me is knowing when to be caregiver and when to be a wife. As a caregiver, I am nurse, doctor, advocate, responsible for sussing out what is medically necessary and educating myself to gain an understanding of what is to come. As a caregiver, I have to administer tough love. As a wife, I just want to give him comfort and smother him in love. I want to magically cure him and have him back as he was. Since the caregiver understands that is not going to happen, I am slowly learning to merge the two roles.

What part of it do you enjoy or find rewarding?

I enjoy being an advocate. I truly and deeply believe a change is near for the ALS community. We must keep the momentum going. What is rewarding are the simple pleasures. A thank you from my husband for a back scratch, a hug from my kids … just because. A movie night with my friends or an encouraging word from a PLM friend. ALS has made me realize that the little moments of life are the rewards that matter (though a nice bottle of wine would be rewarding in itself).

You mention that your best friend has been a caregiver for both of her parents. Did that friendship in any way prepare you for your new role? If so, how?

My best friend has taught me love, patience, humor and perseverance. Watching her be a caregiver for her father with COPD (he passed away last May) and her mother with Alzheimer’s inspires me daily. She has shown me the wisdom of daily affirmations and how to find a quiet peace for my troubled soul. She is my hero. I don’t know what I would be without her.

What advice would you give to someone who has just become a caregiver for an ALS patient? Do you have any best practices yet to share?

My best advice would be to educate yourself. Read, learn, then learn some more. Do not rely on the medical community. Though your doctor may be brilliant, day-to-day management of this disease will be left to you. There are no easy answers. How ALS “behaves” for my husband is not how ALS will behave for you.  My best practices are maintaining humor. Keep your “patient” laughing as best you can. Many times my silly antics (disco lunchtime – complete with dance) have kept my husband from the depths of depression. Remind them that they are still a vital part of your life and your world will always and forever need them.

You often use the word “hope” in your posts. Like “Hope needs another cup of coffee,” “Hope loves tradition,” “Hope has more shopping.” Is this kind of like a personal mantra for you? 

Hope is, indeed, my mantra. I hold hope in high regard and expect those around my husband to subscribe to it. Without hope, we have nothing to hold on to. Hope makes us strong and keeps us stronger. Hope is the essence of life and our best defense. Hope knows ALS will be defeated. Our time has come.

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“I can see that there actually is help here.” – JustinSingleton shares his experiences with PTS

Posted August 21st, 2015 by

JustinSingleton is an Army veteran who recently joined PatientsLikeMe back in June, and he’s been exploring the veteran’s community ever since. This month, he wrote about his experiences in an interview, and below, you can read what he had to say about getting diagnosed with PTS, managing his triggers and the importance of connecting and sharing with fellow service members. 

Can you give us a little background about your experience in the military?

In 1998, I joined the Ohio Army National Guard as an Indirect Fire Infantryman – the guy that shoots the mortars out of a big tube. For six years I trained on a mortar gun, but after being called back into the Army (I left in 2004), I was assigned to an Infantry Reconnaissance platoon, and I had no idea what I was doing. Before heading to Iraq, we trained together as a platoon for six months – learning not only the trade, but to trust each other with our lives.

It wasn’t until March 2006 that we arrived in Iraq, and I was assigned to the Anbar Province, which at the time was rated as the worst province of the nation. I was deployed in the time leading up to the need for “the surge.” As we drove the highways of the Anbar, we were shot at, mortared, and bombed. Intelligence even found “wanted” posters of one of our vehicles (we named it Chuck Norris).

When were you diagnosed with PTS?

I wasn’t diagnosed with PTS until many years after the war (I tried to “fix” myself), but the traumatic events are actually multiple, including receiving indirect fire on what was supposed to be my last mission – just a week or so after two good friends were evacuated after being maimed for life.

What have you done to manage your symptoms of PTS?

At the beginning, I refused medicines – I thought I was strong enough to beat it on my own. I worked with a VA counselor before moving for a semester. While there, I worked with a university student/counselor, but nothing was really helping. Finally, I went to my Primary Care Physician and told her that I needed more. The VA psychiatrist tested some medicines, but one needed to be changed (this is normal). Finally, the combination of medicine and individual therapy created within me a sense of “I might make it.”

You joined PatientsLikeMe in June 2015.  As a newer member, what do you think of the veteran’s and PTS communities?

I joined this community because although I feel better than before, I still need the help of others. I can see that there actually is help here.

You’ve mentioned in the forum that your triggers seem to be non-combat related – can you describe your triggers?

In one of the forums I mentioned my triggers. These, to me, are odd. Bridges, garbage on the side of the road, and even a midnight stroll have triggered panic attacks or anxiety. Often, simply being in a grocery store too long causes anxiety to the point that I take a quarter of Ativan, squeeze my fists or the cart, and head to the door or checkout (whether finished or not). While this has caused an impairment in life, it has never been “the end” of life. These are objects on my road to a healthy living – objectives to be conquered.

Although there is a prevalent idea in the Armed Forces that a man/woman should never ask for help or ever see a physician, I have found that to be a rather juvenile view on life. The greatest thing a veteran facing PTS or anxiety can do is not try to face it alone. We are a community, a brotherhood, and only together with a good doctor can we ever hope to survive.

What advice do you have for other military members who may be experiencing PTS and related conditions?

Twenty-three of our brothers and sisters quit every day. I refuse to be a part of that statistic.

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PatientsLikeMe members to be highlighted in patient empowerment webinar

Posted January 13th, 2015 by

Many PatientsLikeMe members talk openly about the reasons why they donate their health data and why they believe patient-centered healthcare means better healthcare for all. And just a week from now, two of them will be sharing their stories with everyone in a live webinar.

On Tuesday, January 20th, at 2:00pm EST, the Partnership to Improve Patient Care (PIPC) is hosting their first “Patient Empowerment Webinar,” an online event focusing on the importance of patient engagement in their own healthcare and in health policy. Two PatientsLikeMe members, Ms. Laura Roix and Ms. Letitia Brown-James, will be participating in the discussion, and their experiences will be a part of the webinar. Here’s a little bit about Laura and Letitia, and more ways they’re already empowering others:

Laura is a member of the idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) community on PatientsLikeMe, and she recently traveled to Maryland to speak at the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Patient-Focused Drug Development Public Meeting on IPF.  Laura went with our very own Sally Okun RN, VP of Advocacy, Policy and Patient Safety and spoke about her journey and what it’s like to live with IPF. (She recapped her experiences in an October blog interview.) But that’s not all Laura shares – she’s a 3-star member on PatientsLikeMe, which means she is a super health data donor and always keeps her information up to date so others can learn from her.

Letitia has been living with epilepsy since she was little, but after connecting with the PatientsLikeMe epilepsy community she learned about new treatment options available to her, like surgery. She shared about her experiences in a video, and after receiving her surgery, she’s been living seizure-free for years. Letitia is also a part of the first-ever PatientsLikeMe Team of Advisors, a patient-only panel that gives feedback on research initiatives and creates new standards to help all researchers understand how to better engage patients.

The PIPC webinar is open to everyone, so if you’d like to join, please RSVP to the event coordinator via email. Hope to see you there!

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“I know that it will pass eventually” – PatientsLikeMe member Jennifer shares about her PTSD

Posted June 6th, 2014 by

June is National Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, and recently, Jennifer (aka sortaborderline) spoke about her personal experiences with the neurological condition. She talked all about learning to roll with her triggers, leaning on her family and PatientsLikeMe members for support, and recognizing the relationship between her fibromyalgia, myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and PTSD. Check out her full interview below.

 

What went through your mind when you were first diagnosed with PTSD?

I already thought that PTSD was the problem, but it was such a relief to know that I wasn’t “losing my mind.” I have a legitimate disorder, not something that I can wish away or just “try harder” to ignore or push through. I actually felt empowered. Now I knew for sure what was going on, so I could work on treating it. Putting a name to the disorder really helped take a lot of the fear out of it for me. When I am triggered, I know why and I know that it will pass eventually. Just that little bit of information gives me so much more power over it as opposed to before when I didn’t know what was happening.

What have you learned about living with PTSD in the years following your diagnosis?

For the most part, I have learned to roll with it. Not that it is easy or that learning that hasn’t been difficult. I have learned that it is okay to share with my support system when I am triggered and ask for help getting myself back to center. I have learned that it is okay to share how I am feeling with my husband. That was a big step for me. Not because he hasn’t always been supportive of me, he has. Because of my particular issues, it is difficult for me to trust people with my unfiltered self. I’ve learned that I can with him, and it has helped strengthen my marriage immeasurably. People on the Mental Health board at PatientsLikeMe have been incredibly helpful and supportive of me and I know that no matter how bad it gets, I can pour it out on the page in my journal and be supported. For one thing, it can be cathartic to get it all out on the page. For another, it helps me to get feedback. Sometimes all it takes is someone reminding you of the coping skills I have to help me get my bearings.

In addition to PTSD, you’re also living with fibromyalgia and ME/CFS – do you notice a relationship between your conditions? How does one impact the other?

My diagnoses are essentially intertwined. One can trigger the other. If someone is having a long or particularly painful ME/CFS flare, that can make a neuro-typical person anxious. For a person with an anxiety disorder, that is amplified. The pain from the ME/CFS is exhausting. All of those pain signals bombard your brain for days on end, and your brain gets tired. It makes it difficult to think, resulting in the bane of the CFS/ME sufferers’ existence, the dreaded fibro-fog. It is very difficult and emotionally draining, not to mention the effect it has on your sleep. It is difficult to use learned coping skills when you’re exhausted.

On the flip side, anyone with an anxiety disorder can tell you that there are physical symptoms when you’re triggered. With ME/CFS, that is amplified as well and can trigger a flare. Which can amplify the anxiety trigger. It can be viciously cyclical. Sometimes, I just have to rest. There is nothing else to be done. Rest, a good diet, and hydration are the best thing to break it sometimes. If anything, I have learned to pay attention to subtle changes in my body or mood so that I can try to mitigate flares and triggers whenever I can.

You mention a “normal” mask on your PatientsLikeMe profile – can you share what means for you?

I am a mother of two children, I am a wife, a daughter, an aunt, and a granddaughter. I am trying to build a career and lead a full life. People depend on me. I have to “fake it until I make it” a lot of the time. It is difficult. It is nice to be able to take off that mask and be frank about what I am dealing with in the safety of the PatientsLikeMe Mental Health forum. I truly believe the help and camaraderie that I have found there has helped me to maintain a stability that I didn’t have before I found it. I feel much less alone in my struggle, even when in mid-episode, and as much as my “in person” support system is helpful, sometimes you just need to talk to someone who has been where you are. It is indispensable.

How have the connections you’ve made with others in the PatientsLikeMe community helped you to take that mask off?

I am not afraid of my symptoms anymore. I am not afraid to let my feelings out a bit more. I am not afraid to reach out and ask for help, nor am I afraid to offer help to others. Even a little note of support can help pull someone back on the path they want to be on. People on the forum have done it for me so many times. Having a cheering section helps you get the strength together to keep fighting. I know that, and I offer as much support as I can to other members because it matters. I feel like I matter. Even when my symptoms are at their worst and I feel weak and small, I know that a note of support to someone else matters. Sometimes when you can’t bring yourself to matter to yourself, mattering to others can keep you going until you can.

What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with PTSD?

Don’t be afraid. Don’t let negative stigma regarding mental illness keep you from getting help. Our disorders are just as valid as physical illnesses. They need treatment in order for us to function and live our lives. Therapy was absolutely essential to getting me stabilized. It truly helped me to manage my disorders and start living again. If you don’t “click” with the first therapist, try another. When you find the right fit and do some hard work, it will make a huge difference for you.

I have found the tracking tools on PatientsLikeMe to be immensely helpful, especially in the beginning, for tracking symptoms to see if there are patterns in my triggers and symptoms, which has helped direct my therapy and coping techniques. The medication tracker has been helpful as I am one of those super fortunate folks who seem to have a proclivity toward weird side effects from medications. That way I can remember what we have tried and how it worked. Visit the forum. Check out my journal if you want, it’s public. There are folks who have just hung out and read the forum for months before joining in, and that is okay. It helps to see that others think like you and understand what you’re dealing with.

Most importantly, don’t give up. It can get better.


“Gee, doc, ya think?” – Barbara speaks about her diagnosis and life with IPF

Posted May 19th, 2014 by

PatientsLikeMe member Barbara (CatLady51) recently shared about her journey with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in an interview with us, and she spoke about everything from the importance of taking ownership of managing her condition to how she hopes to “turn on the light bulb” by donating her personal health data. Read her full interview about living with IPF below.

Some PF members report having difficulty finding a diagnosis – was this the case with you? What was your experience like? 

My journey started back in 2005, when after my first chest cold that winter, I was left with severe coughing spells and shortness of breath. An earlier chest x-ray didn’t indicate any issues, so I was referred to a local community-based respirologist (what we call a pulmonologist here in Canada) who wasn’t concerned with my PFT results. I also had a complete cardiovascular workup, again with no alarming results.

Then, in 2008, I had another chest cold. Growing up in a family of smokers and being the only non-smoker, I seemed to have managed to miss having chest colds, but 2005 and 2008 were definite exceptions. Again, a normal x-ray, another visit to the respirologist and another PFT that didn’t send up any alarms [although looking back at both 2005 and 2008, I can see where there was a definite indication that I was heading towards restrictive breathing problems]. Inhalers only made the coughing worse. The respirologist said I had “sensitive lungs” – gee, doc you think?

Then, in November 2010, I was laid out with another chest cold, coughing my lungs inside out, barely able to walk 10 feet. So the new family doctor calls me. This time, the x-ray report came back that I was showing signs of interstitial lung disease (ILD). What? So onto the computer and in to see the family doctor. When the doctor suggested sending me back to the local community-based respirologist I had previously seen, I said NO BLOODY WAY!

Instead, through a friend who is a thoracic surgeon at the University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto, I got a quick appointment at the ILD Clinic at Toronto General Hospital (TGH) in January 2011. Since I hadn’t yet had a HRCT, I was sent for one and returned to the clinic in June. The initial diagnosis was probably IPF, but maybe NSIP since my HRCT didn’t show the UIP-pattern. The decision was made to treat as IPF so no harmful treatment was undertaken. A biopsy was discussed, but was considered too early for that invasive test and that instead my disease would be monitored via non-invasive tests.

My ILD/PF specialist continued to monitor me and after another exacerbation early in 2012 and the PFT showing a progression of my lung disease, we decided to send me for a VATS biopsy. The September 2012 biopsy clearly indicated the UIP-pattern of lung damage and the IPF diagnosis was confirmed.

Over the last few years, I’ve learned a great deal. I know that the road to diagnosis is often long and complex with not all the pieces of information presenting at the same time — seldom with one test or series of tests taken at one point in time. I feel I’m fortunate that first I had that very unsatisfactory experience with the local community-based respirologist and that through my husband’s work we had met and become friends with a thoracic surgeon who is on the lung transplant team at TGH.

So even though I “naturally” followed the recommended course of action to get myself to an ILD/PF expert, my path to diagnosis wasn’t instantaneous. My biopsy could have just as easily shown that I had a treatable form of PF — still not good news but a different path.

Now with a confirmed IPF diagnosis, I’ve been assessed for transplant (June 2013) and found suitable but too early. But another winter of exacerbations and my ILD/PF specialist is now talking about going on the waiting list.

Another PF member, Lori, spoke about her “new normal” – how did your diagnosis change daily life?

Yes, life with PF has certainly been a series of adjusting to the “new normal” but up until February 2013 when I started oxygen therapy, the changes were small. I had to explain to people why I broke into coughing fits while talking on the phone or in person. I had to explain to people who offered water that thank you but it didn’t help since it was just my lungs telling me to talk slower or shut up. I had to explain to people that I wasn’t contagious when coughing. I had to explain to people that the huffing and puffing were just the “new me” and that they didn’t need to feel they had to jump in — that I would ask when I needed help.

But since going on oxygen therapy with my new facial jewelry and my constant buddy, I don’t have to explain that I have a disease but some people still like to ask questions and I enjoy answering them.

Life with PF and supplemental oxygen is definitely more complicated. I started with high-flow for exertion (6 lpm) and liquid oxygen (LOX). So I can’t spontaneously take off overnight (I would have to make arrangements about a week ahead to have  equipment and supplies delivered at my destination) and I probably can’t fly. But I’m a homebody so that has affected me very little. But I can’t leave the house without considering how long I will be and how many of my LOX portables to take with me.

I still do my own driving, shopping, cooking, housework, and one or two 2-mile walks per day on the farm property — over hilly landscape — because I’m de-conditioned after this past winter. I’m currently having to use 8-10 lpm for those walks but I’m doing them. Use it or lose it!

What made you decide to get so involved in the PatientsLikeMe community and how has it helped you better understand your own PF?

Involvement with PatientsLikeMe was more of a knowledge-based decision. I believe that knowledge is power and knowing as much as I can about my disease helps me to manage the disease. For me, support is sharing what I have found and providing directions to that information for others. Then it is up to them to read the information and decide how, or if, it applies to them.

I believe in being my own medical advocate in charge of my medical team. I’ve probably had a natural propensity for that but my way of thinking in not being a traditional patient was affirmed by Dr. Devin Starlanyl, a doctor with fibromyalgia who wrote The Fibromyalgia Advocate. Fibromyalgia is a matter of living with and managing the symptoms and dealing with different medical specialties to achieve that BUT also accepting that you as the patient are central to treatment and management.

I believe that living with PF is that way as well. The doctors can only do so much. There is no single silver bullet that they can give us, no matter what type of PF, to make it all go away. We have a core set of symptoms BUT we don’t all have all the same symptoms. We have to take ownership for our disease management.

So at PatientsLikeMe, I seek to not only learn but to share what I’ve learned. If I can help one other person shorten their learning curve then perhaps I’ve helped.

On your PatientsLikeMe profile, you reported using a pulse oximeter in 2013 – how did you like it? What did it help you learn?

I found that I was having to slow down too much or struggle too much to breathe. My walking test was not yet indicating that I qualified for oxygen therapy but rather was on the cusp of requiring supplemental oxygen. I was concerned about the damage to my body.

I purchased an inexpensive pulse oximeter to check my saturation. I soon realized that being short of breath was not a reliable indicator that my oxygen saturation had dropped below 90%. Having the oximeter to give me a measure of my saturation helped me to better interpret and listen to the other biofeedback that my body was giving me.

The oximeter helped me to manage my activity so that fear didn’t turn me into a tortoise that either slowed way down or seldom moved. I got a better handle on just how much and how fast I could do things to keep active, to keep my body healthy, to exercise all the parts of my respiratory system, and yet to do it SAFELY!

Looks like you use your profile tracking charts and reports a lot on PatientsLikeMe- why do you donate so much health data, and how do you think that will change healthcare for people living with PF?

Again, my propensity. I love learning! I love sharing what I learn! I keep my own spreadsheets with my medical data but that only benefits me. I know that one of the problems for researchers is accessing a sample population large enough to make meaningful inferences from their findings. And finding a large population in a given geographical area for a rare disease is difficult. Going outside the geographical area is expensive. So hopefully the remote sharing of information will be the answer.

We are all so very different and so many of us also have other health issues on top of the PF. So who knows what comparing us will show? But throughout life I’ve been amazed at how seemingly inconsequential, seemingly totally unconnected pieces of information can come together at a later point and TURN ON the light bulb!

So why not share my health data? It really is anonymous. Unless I provide more identifying information, I’m just a name and a face but maybe with enough names and faces we can get some answers that will benefit us all.

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“Pay it forward.” Following up with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis patient and PatientsLikeMe member Lori

Posted March 27th, 2014 by

 

This is Lori’s third interview on the PatientsLikeMe blog! She’s been sharing her journey with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (a rare lung disease) with all of our followers here, along with her real-world health experiences on her PatientsLikeMe profile. Since the last time we caught up with her, Lori has lost 70 lbs., has made the transplant list and is playing what she calls ‘the waiting waltz.’ Check out the entire interview below where she talks about ‘life on the list’ and what inspires her to donate her health data. And don’t forget to check out Lori’s own blog called Reality Gasps. Thank you Lori for continuing to share and inspire!

If you missed one of her previous interviews you can find those here.

 

 

You share a lot about reaching your weight loss goal (70 lbs! That’s awesome!). Can you describe what exercise means to someone living with IPF? And some of the other ways you achieved your goal?

For someone living with IPF, exercise isn’t about pushing yourself to go farther, faster or harder — it’s about endurance. Pulmonary Rehab is always focused on doing whatever you’re doing for as long as you can. That’s because endurance equals muscle efficiency. The more efficiently the body can use oxygen, the easier it is to breathe. Right now, I can do 30-35 minutes on the treadmill at 1 mph. I’m not setting any records, but I am moving, and that’s really the key to all. Activity is difficult for anyone with PF because oxygen sats plummet so quickly. So all you can really do is move as often as you can for as long as you can. I marked a 600-ft circuit (4 laps) in the house and practice my 6-minute walk several times a day (600 feet in 6 minutes is a baseline standard). I go to Rehab every week, and I have a pedal exerciser that I use while I watch TV. It sits on the floor for use with the feet, or I can put it on a table for use with my hands. Every little bit helps!

Plus, I have discovered a calorie-burning secret weapon available specifically for PF patients — breathing. My pulmonologist told me that the average healthy person expends about 2% of total daily energy on breathing. People with PF expend 20% on breathing, and someone who is end-stage like me probably uses more than that. Dragging air into these stiff old lungs is hard work! My transplant coordinator agrees, and warns her patients that post-tx, we really need to watch what we eat because we aren’t spending nearly the energy we did before on breathing or anything else.

Can you tell us a little about how you get your Lung Allocation Score and what that means for placing you on ‘The List’?

Everyone who is approved for the lung transplant waiting list receives a Lung Allocation Score (LAS), ranging from 0 to 100. The LAS is used to determine your location on a Transplant Center’s waiting list, and is based on medical urgency and the potential for survival post transplant. When I was listed in February, my LAS was 62, and four weeks later it was increased to 71. The average LAS at Barnes is in the 40s. I am neck and neck with another candidate for the #1 spot — luckily we have different tissue types, so we are looking for different donors.

Since my score is so high, I am re-evaluated every two weeks. Anyone with a LAS below 50 is re-evaluated every four weeks. The bi-weekly eval includes a PFT (FEV1), 6-minute walk, chest x-ray, blood tests and meeting with a pulmonologist.

It’s important to understand that being #1 on the list doesn’t mean that I will get the next lungs that become available. They still have to match size, blood and tissue type . But, because of my high placement on the list, I will be considered first for every donor lung.

And did you have a ‘fake’ heart attack?!

This was one of those “blessings in disguise.” At Barnes, the evaluation for transplant list is a 4-day process. My husband and I were there for Day 1, Test 1 — blood work and an EKG. Pretty routine stuff that I never have an issue with, except this time. When I shuffled from the chair where they drew blood, to the table where they hooked me up to the EKG, my sats dropped (normal) and my heart started to pound (also normal). The tech gave me a few minutes to recover and then ran a strip. She got quiet and left the room, then came back and ran another strip. She left the room again, came back and ran a third strip. I was wondering what was going on because no one ever runs three strips and she kept asking me if I felt okay (I felt fine). Then suddenly, the room was full of people (the acute response team). Among them was a resident who informed me I was having a heart attack. I assured him I wasn’t. He said something about inverted waves and the EKG looking like I was having a coronary. The only problem was, I felt fine… not just fine, completely normal! They sent me to the ER anyway, where multiple EKGs and blood work showed no signs of heart attack. But, a comparison with an EKG I’d had 6 months earlier showed a slight change, so they admitted me.

I ended up having a heart catheterization, which I was scheduled for later in the week anyway. The cath was clear, beautiful in fact. And, they decided to complete all of the tests I’d had scheduled that week as an inpatient instead of an outpatient. In exchange for three days of lousy food, I was able to complete the eval without the stress of driving to and from Barnes everyday in sub-freezing temperatures. My husband got a nice reprieve, too!

You talked a little on your own blog about ‘Life on the List.’ Can you share with the community what that means for you day-to-day?

Getting on the list was a goal I’d had for more than two years. In that time, it had almost become a destination in itself — everything was focused on losing weight and getting on the list. Once I was on the list, everything would be fine. But getting listed is just the beginning of a whole new journey where I have a lot less control over what’s happening. It would be easy to become overwhelmed with frustration or fear or panic — I’ve felt all of those at one point or another. Instead of giving in to these emotions, however, I’m trying very hard just to let go and focus on the things that I can have an impact on. I can’t change when my donor match will be found, but I can keep myself as active as possible so I am ready when the call comes. I can’t predict what my recovery will be like or how long I will survive afterwards, but I can be present and involved right now in the lives of my family and friends. So for me, Life on the List is pretty much a one day at a time kind of thing. I hope, I pray, I plod, and I wait.

I noticed on your PatientsLikeMe profile that you’ve been consistently using your PF Severity Score and symptom report. What do you find helpful about these tools and what inspires you to donate so much data? 

I did it for the t-shirt. Kidding! I really love having one place where I can get a complete picture of what’s going on — not just test scores or symptoms, but also how I’m feeling in relation to everything. The various questions help me tune into my mental, emotional and physical states. And the more I understand about what’s happening with me, the better informed I can keep my doctors, and that helps everything.

As for donating data, I am happy to do it. The treatments and techniques that I am benefiting from today were developed with information from patients who came before. Sharing my info is the best way I can think of to pay it forward.