Maryel Andison was a university communications and fundraising specialist living with her husband and children in Winnipeg when she suffered a stroke. It was a warm Sunday morning, she was watering flowers, and she was just 51 years old.
Maryel waited three days before deciding to see a doctor. By the time she was referred to a neurologist, she learned there would be more delays, including waiting for the imaging tests that would show exactly what had occurred in her brain. But instead of allowing more time to elapse, she decided to seek advice from Mayo Clinic.
Maryel's ties to Mayo go back decades. Impressed with the cancer care a friend received at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, her parents became patients there in the 1950s. As a child, Maryel remembers visiting her mother at the hospital, where a half century later her husband's daughter would be a neurosurgical resident. Now, needing care herself, she saw it as a logical choice.
Ultimately, it was also a life-saving one. [...]
I struggled for years with extreme fatigue, major skin problems, muscle weakness, escalating eye issues, and a host of other unexplained symptoms. I moved to Georgia with more and more symptoms. I developed relationships with new doctors and developed new symptoms – seizures and heart-related syncope. I went to see a neurologist, who began to run tests. In the meantime, I had regular quarterly blood panels by my regular physician, who upon reporting to me by phone noted no irregularities. I was told time and time again to stop chasing a diagnosis. My family continued to watch my decline.
After running numerous tests, my neurologist could only ascertain that I may have had some mini-strokes. My neurologist referred me to a major university hospital. After two visits, and being practically laughed out of the place, I began to have serious doubts about my symptoms and began to believe the many specialists and psychologists who told me it was emotional response. [...]
Michael Tessmer got out of his parents' car and stared at the hospital building before him. His parents had brought him to a hospital in his home state of Iowa for the first of 14 surgeries to repair a cleft palate. Each time, young Michael would be dropped off on the front steps of the hospital, and he would not see his parents again until the hospital released him.
"I don't know if that was hospital policy or what," he says. "But I'd be down there anywhere from two weeks to a month each time, all alone."
That did little to instill trust and confidence in the medical world. In fact, it did just the opposite. "I was terrified of doctors and hospitals," Michael says. "I'm not ungrateful that they fixed me. I'm very happy they did.” But he admits it left him with questions about that approach.
So after the last of his surgeries, Michael stayed as far away from doctors, nurses and other health care providers as he could -- going in to be seen only when it was absolutely necessary. Thankfully, that changed after one of Michael's daughters decided to go to nursing school. [...]
As a 14-year-old, Ann Strom understandably had knots in her stomach about starting her freshman year of high school.
These knots, however, did not go away.
Following several weeks of abdominal pain, Strom and her parents began to suspect that her upset stomach was more than the result of nervousness or flu.
After a series of tests conducted by her family doctor came back negative, Strom was transferred to a specialist at a University Hospital. Several more rounds of tests, including Strom’s first colonoscopy at the age of 14, ultimately diagnosed her with Crohn’s disease in Oct. 2003.
Throughout high school, Strom alternated between several different medications in an attempt to control her symptoms. At one point, she was taking 14 pills a day. One in particular had terrible side effects, including feeling jittery, shaking, an elevated pulse and a red, puffy face.
“It’s kind of hard to deal with,” said Strom. “High school is a lot about appearances, so sitting there with a puffy, red face isn’t really fun.”
As Strom transitioned out of pediatric care, she began to consider other medical facilities for treatment. “I decided, after my mom had a doctor at Mayo, to switch my care to Mayo,” said Strom.
Upon arriving at Mayo, Strom met Dr. David Bruining, who recommended an aggressive re-assessment of her diagnosis. This time her testing was felt to be most suggestive of ulcerative colitis, not Crohn’s disease, as the cause of Strom’s condition.
“For patients like Ann, it is important to seek out help as they are not alone in their struggles,” said Dr. Bruining. “There are many treatment options available for patients with IBD.”
Though hopeful that this diagnosis was the correct one, towards the end of her freshman year of college Strom was still plagued by fatigue and abdominal pain.
“I was kind of at the end of the line when it came to medication options,” said Strom. “I could go back on high dosages of medication that caused really bad side effects that I hated in high school, or another option would be to have surgery.”
After much deliberation, Strom chose surgery. She completed a series of three surgeries, with a final take-down procedure in Oct. 2009.
Since then, Strom is back to her “new normal.”
“I’ve been feeling the best I’ve felt since I was 14 years old,” said Strom.
Here’s a video of Strom describing her journey through diagnosis and surgery:
This post was submitted by Lauren Rothering, a summer intern in the Mayo Clinic Department of Public Affairs in Rochester.