There are a number of theories rolling around about the specifics of the illness (kidney failure, parasite, disease) and with no autopsy there is no way to know for sure which is true. But, one running theory amongst scholars is a secondary flare up of the inflammatory disease acute rheumatic fever – as in the disease that I have (greeeaaat). But this new bit of trivia doesn’t make me too worried and here’s why...
In 1791, Mozart fell ill experiencing symptoms of pallor, weight loss, and painful swelling of the hands and feet (sound familiar). Unfortunately, Mozart was alive during a time of ill-thought-out medical practices and they did a bloodletting treatment to cure him of his ailments (whatever they may have been). But, even more unfortunately, bloodletting while suffering from severe inflammation apparently causes hemorrhagic shock and, in the 1790’s, there’s no coming back from that. So, the treatment intended to save the most gifted musical genius in history accidentally killed him.
Fortunately for me, bloodletting isn't in regular practice anymore so I don’t have to worry about that kind of medical mishap! Whoops!
People have been making and breaking New Years resolutions for millennia! In Roman times, on January 1st the highest officials would swear oaths to the Emperor and make resolutions to remain loyal to the republic in celebration of the two-headed god of new beginnings, Janus (for which January is named for), who looked both into the past and future.
I don't usually make "resolutions" but I, like many other people, do take the dawning of having to remember to add one when writing the year as a time to reflect on the past 365 days and determine what can be done to make this year even better. And, after a two week - much needed - holiday vacation, I am ready to get back into the swing of things and start 2014 off right! This includes getting my body back to a healthier and happier state preparing me for the loads of adventure ahead of me this year (more to come on that soon). Due to the hustle and bustle of trying to see everyone while in California and falling victim to the sweets and good eats of the holidays, I am starting off 2014 with my back hurting worse than it has in a long while and bouts of fatigue are setting in with a vengeance. I have been noticing the deterioration of my good habits and the development of ones which I am sure are the culprits for getting me to this point, most of which revolve around food. So, while mentally I am happy, physically I am not, so, it's time to make a change!
To "restore [my] body's natural ability to heal itself" I will be doing a 21-day cleanse, detox and diet called Clean by cardiologist Dr. Alejandra Junger, M.D. I have done "detox" diets before. The detox phase of the FatSmash diet is my typical go to get myself back in-line and has never steered me wrong but, this time, I wanted something more. I don't want to just re-teach myself to eat better and get myself back on track after two weeks of cheats; I want to help myself through the healing process of my illness and I think this program could do just that. The program focuses on both inner and outer (mental and physical) health and there is a whole section on Nutrigenomics and gene expression, which really speaks to my scientist side. This program is about rebuilding and restoring your whole body to become healthy and happy.
I will be going through this program with the help and support of the Curry Girl's Kitchen, my cousin and aunt's company which teaches healthy eating habits. If you are interested in trying this type of program yourself, check out www.cleanprogram.com and contact the Curry Girl's Kitchen (tell them Caitlin sent you). If you're in the Los Angeles area, you can even participate in weekly classes during the program where you will be guided through each week learning "clean" recipes.
2013 was an incredible year, but I have a feeling 2014 is going to be even better!
One year ago today I was officially diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever. Since then my ASO titer (see Sick of Getting Sick for more info) has gone from 935 to an even 400, showing that I am well on my way to recovery. While I still have a ways to go, I am feeling healthier than I have in a long time (even with the unsurmountable stresses of graduate school). My doctor, Dr. Shikhman at the Institute for Specialized Medicine in California, is working with my doctor here at Texas A&M so I can utilize the clinic on campus, which is very convenient and pocket friendly. I can stop in between class and lab to chat with my case manager if I ever have a random question or concern and I get all of my injections and blood work done without having to drive all around town. It has been a bit difficult, as the injections still knock me out for a couple days after I get them and I occasionally get bouts of fatigue here and there, but I can only imagine what my life would be like if I weren't getting them. I am thankful for that diagnosis one year ago and even more thankful that the treatment is working!
This morning I had an echocardiogram. At the beginning of February I was officially diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever and the Echo was to rule out cardiac involvement. There are two types of Rheumatic Fever, with and without cardiac involvement. The kind with cardiac involvement can cause severe heart valve damage and, if gone untreated, can even lead to death. My rheumatologist suspects that mine is without but he wanted me to get my heart checked just in case since he heard a slight heart murmur during my exam.
Rheumatic fever develops after an infection with Streptococcus, the bacteria that cause strep throat and scarlet fever. Rheumatic Fever is uncommon in the United States, mainly affects children ages 6 -15, and occurs approximately 20 days after strep throat or scarlet fever if mis- or un-treated. I, however, am 27 and they suspect that I have had it for quite some time; 2-3 years even. However, Rheumatic Fever isn’t strictly characterized by its typical symptoms of high fever, chest pain and rash. Streptococcus is a master mimicker, affecting the heart, joints, skin, and brain much the same as autoimmune disorders such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, for which it’s named after. This is why I went to see a rheumatologist in the first place. After being diagnosed with interstitial cystitis and degenerative disc disease with in year, I had multiple doctors suggest I see a rheumatologist because I was a prime candidate for an autoimmune disorder.
Rheumatic Fever is diagnosed by looking at your ASO titer. ASO, or Anti-streptolysin O, is the antibody made to fight the toxin produced by most strains of streptococci. The average person, having had strep at least once in their life, has an ASO titer of around 0-100. After you get strep your ASO titer elevates as your body fights the infection, peaks up to around 200 a couple weeks after infection then falls to pre-infection levels within 6-12 months. In December, my ASO titer was 935, more than 9 times higher than the average person’s. This level is higher than any amount I could find on the internet when I was researching my diagnosis. I found one in the 700 range but most papers and articles were for patients with 400 or less. Pretty amazing considering I don’t feel that sick, although I have been more sick, more often than I have at any other period in my life. I also had my genes tested and I tested negative for all autoimmune disorders but positive for genes which code for gluten intolerance. Gluten intolerance could be a factor in all this but we can talk about that another day…
Treatment for Rheumatic Fever is deep tissue penicillin injections once every three weeks for 6-18+ months. They will test my blood every 4 months to see if my ASO titer is decreasing. Hopefully it will work because I’m sick of getting sick and, from the sounds of it, it’s the only option!
So, while the bad news is, even after months of treatment, I am still susceptible to contracting it again, the good news is, I don’t have an autoimmune disorder and rheumatic fever is totally manageable!
I am a biologist and my life is crap!