Finding Beauty Amidst the Tribulations

Nephrology/Endocrinology patient Ava
Calling the first half of 2019 a challenge is downplaying the many obstacles Ava, 13, and her family faced. Within a four month span, Ava learned to navigate a new school, her mother Emilia lost a job she loved and – due to a routine sports physical exam – they soon discovered Ava was dangerously ill.

“If I hadn’t gone to my physical, I might not be alive right now. I could have had a heart attack,” Ava said.

Ava has been a lifelong athlete, playing soccer and other sports from a young age. Therefore, her pediatrician was concerned with her unusually high blood pressure results. When she again presented with high blood pressure in a follow-up visit, Ava was quickly referred to Connecticut Children’s Fairfield County medical director and nephrologist, Robyn Matloff, MD, to provide a diagnosis.

“I evaluated her in our Danbury office using ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (ABPM) – the gold standard for diagnosing hypertension because a patient wears the monitor for twenty-four hours, allowing me to interpret a far more accurate study,” Dr. Matloff said.

Dr. Matloff diagnosed Ava with hypertension and fast heart rate. She requested a series of other tests, including a thyroid test, suspecting the hypertension and fast rate were symptoms of other underlying issues. Her suspicions were proven correct when the thyroid test results returned abnormal. Within one day, Ava was referred to Connecticut Children’s Shelton offices to be treated by endocrinologist Angela Verardo, MD.

She empathized with Ava and Emilia, especially when explaining Ava’s newfound diagnosis of Graves’ Disease – an autoimmune condition attacking the thyroid hormone, often resulting in hyperthyroidism or over production of thyroid. Common signs include: weight loss though eating habits haven’t changed, irregular periods, mood swings, heat sensitivity, high blood pressure and fast heart rate. Graves’ Disease affects more women than men, though the disease is more commonly diagnosed in adults than adolescents.

“Looking back we noticed some of the signs,” Emilia said, “but many of them are just part of being a teenager, too.”

Learning that she now has a chronic illness to contend with, and one associated with the adult population, had Ava feeling isolated or, “like a unicorn.”

“But Dr. Verardo right away made me feel I wasn’t alone or weird. She has a 2-year-old patient with my same condition. I felt better after she told me that. She even drew me a picture of what was going on in my body,” Ava said. “I still have that picture.”

Under Dr. Matloff and Dr. Verardo’s care, Ava’s hypertension has stabilized and she is learning to manage her hyperthyroidism just in time for the new school year. She claims to have even more energy, her throat feels more open and her stress has decreased. In addition to soccer, she is excited to join a gymnastics team because as she explains, “Why not?”

“I know I’ll get through this health bump because it’s life. Just gotta stay strong, believe in the doctors and keep doing what I’m doing.”

Connecticut Children’s Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Division of Pediatric Nephrology are dedicated to providing the highest quality of care for routine and complex pediatric nephrotic and endocrine conditions. To learn more about our expertise, please contact our Endocrinology and Nephrology teams.

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