Chiari Malformation Patient Hasn’t Let 6 Brain Surgeries or a Stroke Stop Her from Continuing Medical School

The Beginning of the Journey

Claudia Martinez is a medical student at UTHealth McGovern Medical School. Her dream is, and always has been, to be a doctor. But an unexpected diagnosis of Chiari malformation put some extra hurdles in the road. Nonetheless, Martinez has stayed determined to make her dreams come true.

It started in 2011 when Martinez was an undergraduate at the University of Houston. She had unexplained headaches and was passing out each time she stood. The onset of these symptoms was sudden and unfortunately the diagnosis which accompanied them was devastating. She was told she had a rare disease called Chiari malformation. Essentially, the brain begins extending down into the spinal cord, causing patients risk of paralysis from the neck down. Martinez was referred to a neurosurgeon for consultation and was told that surgery was urgent. Within just a week of learning she had Chiari malformation, she was undergoing her first of now six brain surgeries.

Martinez admits that even after hearing her diagnosis, she didn’t think it would be as long of a journey as it has been. She thought she would have surgery and move on with her life, graduate college, attend and finish med school, and become the doctor she’s always dreamed of being. Her story has ended up being much more complicated than that. But she’s remained a fighter through it all.

The Stroke

In 2017 Martinez underwent brain surgery number six. Unfortunately, this complicated surgery caused her to suffer a stroke.

She was unable to move from the neck down just like doctors had feared following her initial diagnosis. She had to relearn everything, including how to walk. Her mother showered her, dressed her, and took care of all of the things most of us take for granted every day.

But while Martinez was learning how to take care of herself, she never stopped learning how to take care of other people. Throughout her recovery, she kept up with school.

Her mother would transcribe her essays for her so that Martinez could continue her classes. She would listen to lectures through headphones which she had to ask her mom to put in her ears.

While she was determined and believed in herself, she didn’t receive the same encouragement from everyone around her.

“People around me were very diligently telling me that I needed to leave medicine.”

But Martinez knew she still had something to offer. Slowly she regained her strength and was able to attend classes again.

Giving Back

Martinez has supported other patients through the Fight Like a Warrior foundation and the Conquer Chiari Walk Across America. After learning Conquer Chiari didn’t have a walk in Houston, Texas where Martinez lives, she decided to organize an event herself. For the past four years she’s helped organize a walk and so far, they’ve raised close to $55,000 which will all go toward research for Chiari malformation.

As for her schooling, Martinez is now a fourth year medical student at UTHealth with just one year left to go. She will graduate on May 15th, 2020.

She has decided the area where she wants to practice is physical medicine/rehabilitation so that she can help others who are going through a similar journey to what she herself has faced.

“I think my experience has been a blessing in disguise and I wouldn’t change it for anything because I’ve been able to connect with patients on a whole different level. I know what it’s like to have a feeding tube. I know what it’s like to have a port. Some things that maybe doctors miss, I get because I was a patient.” – Claudia Martinez

You can read more about this patient’s amazing story here.

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