By Sarah Payne, Intern, University of Virginia
“I’m more than a conqueror,” is one woman’s inspiring life motto after battling several severe medical conditions throughout most of her adult life.
For Tina, 39, from Virginia Beach, Virginia, her medical journey first started in 1993 when she began to experience the swelling of various body parts, symptoms many doctors wrote off as hay fever or allergies. It wasn’t until 2009 that she was properly diagnosed at John Hopkins Medical Center with Hereditary Angioedema (HAE), “a very rare and potentially life-threatening genetic condition.”
Unfortunately, her diagnoses did not end there. As a result of her HAE, in 2012 Tina began to show signs of Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder characterized by the overproduction of thyroid hormones. In addition, a small percentage of patients will develop Thyroid Eye Disease (TED), which affects tear production and vision. Sadly for Tina, she was part of this minority.
In May 2014, two years into local treatment for her Graves’ and TED, Tina began experiencing double vision, the second-to-last symptom before vision loss.
Not wanting to take any chances with her sight, Tina decided it was time to look into more specialized treatment. At the University of Michigan Kellogg Eye Center, she found what she was looking for.
After driving herself to Michigan for several appointments and one major surgery—a trip of nearly 700 miles—the financial and physical burden of the trek started to take its toll. In addition, Tina’s doctors at U of M told her that the surgeries she needed to treat her TED required air transportation. Unable to afford plane tickets for both herself and her son Brandon, and with her next surgery scheduled in two weeks, Tina was scrambling for a solution.
Angel Flight a ‘Godsend’
Fortunately, she stumbled upon the Angel Flight website while researching affordable medical travel online. From there, the trip coordinator, MJ Sablan, quickly connected her and Brandon with a flight to Michigan for her first eye surgery.
Tina has now flown several flights with Angel Flight, and of her experience she exclaims, “It’s a godsend!” She also speaks highly of her pilots, especially John Billings. Upon their first meeting, Tina recalls how he “instantly gave me a hug” and made her and Brandon feel right at home, despite their nerves about flying in such a small plane.
Tina has not let her illnesses inhibit her, despite the many problems they have created. She graduated from Tidewater Community College in 2011 with flying colors, passing microbiology with an A! Not stopping there, she now plans to apply for nursing school after her final surgery this month. Tina’s perseverance in the wake of such challenges is inspiring. She credits her son as her source of inspiration, saying he is the one who “motivated me through all of this.”
After countless surgeries, Tina is now Graves’ free, and after this month her eyesight will be on the fast track to recovery–Tina truly is “more than a conqueror.”