A local Utah newspaper spotlighted 40-something nurse Tammy Henry, whose fibromuscular dysplasia not only can’t stop her from running in her city’s half marathon; but inspired her to be healthier.
Behold, the power of perseverance!
What is Fibromuscular Dysplasia?
Fibromuscular dysplasia (FMD) is a condition that causes the narrowing (stenosis) and enlargement (aneurysm) of the medium-sized arteries in the body. Narrowed arteries may reduce blood flow and affect the function of your organs.
Fibromuscular dysplasia appears most commonly in the arteries leading to the kidneys and brain. FMD can affect other arteries, including those leading to the legs, heart, abdomen and sometimes the arms.
Some people with FMD experience no symptoms of the disease while others may experience high blood pressure, dizziness or vertigo, chronic headache, ringing in the ears, weakness or numbness in the face, neck pain, or changes in vision.
Running for Answers, Running for Hope
It’ll all started when Tammy couldn’t shake off constant headaches, pulse pounding in her ear, and a terrible ache in her neck.
“I went to my doctor and said, ‘There is something wrong here,’” said Tammy. “He sent me to an ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor), the ENT couldn’t find anything wrong. He sent me to an opthamologist, and he couldn’t find anything wrong. And on it went.”
Like many here can relate, it’s not only the exhausting appointments and tests that can take its toll; it’s not feeling seen or heard.
It came to a point where she just gave up on looking for a diagnosis.
“I said, ‘I’m tired of all of these tests,’” she said. “’I can just live with it. There is nothing wrong.’ And I lived that way for three years.”
So she did what she had to do — carry on with her life. Part of that carrying on was long-distance running — a habit she had formed during nursing school after she was diagnosed with high blood pressure.
Which brings us to last year, when Tammy decided to run in her local Deseret News Half Marathon. All seemed well in her training — until constant headaches began plaguing her.
She suspected they were caused by temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), and so once again she made an appointment and prepared herself for diagnostic tests with a medical professional. When her dentist had her describe the pain, which included a pounding pulse in her ear, he told her it wasn’t TMJ.
“’You need to go back to your doctor, and you need to ask him to do an ultrasound of your carotid artery,’” she said. “So I went back to my doctor, and he said, ‘I don’t want to do an ultrasound. I want to do an MRA (magnetic resonance angiogram).’ I said, ‘Whatever, just so you do something.’”
Tammy finally got her diagnosis — the rare fibromuscular dysplasia. And what she read about it scared her.
“It said that I was at high risk for having a stroke, aneurysm, heart attack at any minute.”
Questions consumed her; and at the top of the list was whether she should run the half marathon.
“I was uncertain what my prognosis or limitations were going to be but I decided to run the half anyway,” she said. “I ran and had a great time. Although (I was) fearful that I was going to drop dead at any minute.”
Tammy is a testament to how we can preserve our fears and anxiety. And now that she has embraced her diagnosis, she is moving forward with her life full steam ahead.
“With this being a rare disorder many doctors don’t get the opportunity to learn about it in medical school and the lesson is so brief and they never see a patient with it, they aren’t fully aware of what it involves,” said Tammy. “Through work and research I now have a doctor who knows some about this, and I’m keeping things controlled.”
One of the ways she “controls” her disease is by doing the things she loves and living her life without fear.
Of course some days are easier than others — but that’s true of anyone. It’s all about knowing your body, knowing your limitation, but remembering that your life is so much bigger than a diagnosis.
“I have good days and bad days as anyone else does. I still have days where I’m fearful of having a stroke but am determined to control my disorder rather than let the disorder control me.”