ROCHESTER — Something had to be wrong.
A well-conditioned athlete, Megan Avery was always tired. A good student, she suddenly had trouble concentrating in class. Despite a healthy appetite, she was losing weight.
She also had a rapid pulse. At times, her heart would start racing for no reason. To the point, she found out later, where cardiac arrest was a possibility.
"It felt so weird to not be doing a lot of activity and have my heart just beating out of control," said Avery, who played two sports at Spaulding High School before graduating last weekend. "That was the scariest part."
She first noticed the symptoms during soccer season of her sophomore year. They persisted for several months and eventually produced a diagnosis of Graves disease, an autoimmune disorder that leads to overactivity of the thyroid gland.
"It's similar to some other things where the body kind of turns on itself," said Holly Avery, Megan's mom. "It was real frightening. (The doctors) were all afraid Megan might go into cardiac arrest."
Doctors immediately prescribed medication to get her heart beat under control.
"I had to make sure I didn't overdo it and push myself too hard," Megan said.
The Red Raiders were in the midst of the lacrosse season when she was diagnosed. She not only had to stop playing, but also missed a month of school.
"Walking to class took so much energy," Megan said, "that by the time I got there I was out of breath and felt like I was going to pass out."
She experienced even more distress playing sports.
"She looked like she was running through mud on the field," Holly said.
The disease caused her to miss two soccer seasons, including last fall after suffering a relapse the previous spring.
She was, however, able to play lacrosse this year, her first full season since the diagnosis almost two years earlier.
"If I continued to play lacrosse without doing anything about it," Megan said, "I probably would have had a heart attack or gone into cardiac arrest just because my heart couldn't control itself and being constantly active would have been too much for it to handle.
"I don't even want to think about what could have happened if we hadn't gotten it in time," she added.
In addition to having regular checkups every couple months at Boston Children's Hospital, Megan now takes medication on a daily basis in an effort to manage the disease and regulate her thyroid gland.
"We think she blew a fuse," said Holly Avery. "We feel like she was working too hard in school trying to keep up even though she's really bright. Also, doing sports at the same time was too much for her mind and her body."
Megan lost 20 pounds over a period of 10 months.
"It didn't help at all that I'd lost so much weight because I didn't have a lot of extra body fat to begin with," she said, "so my body was eating away at the muscle. Since your heart's a muscle it was disintegrating a little bit at a time. So bringing my heart rate up and a smaller heart than normal wasn't good."
Because of the weight loss doctors initially thought she might have an eating disorder, but other symptoms and subsequent blood tests revealed otherwise.
Graves disease is hereditary and Megan has a family history. Her mom and grandmother both have a mild form of the disorder.
That came to light following the diagnosis.
"I had no idea what (the doctor) was talking about," said Megan, who had never heard of Graves disease. "I missed a month of school. I couldn't do anything. I'd lie on the couch all day. It felt like I was never going to get healthy and that I was never going to be able to do anything again. As I started to get better and get stronger, then I started to realize, 'I can overcome this.'"
Doctors told Megan the thyroid gland secretes hormones that control all the functions of the body and that hers was producing too many which speeds up those functions.
"Everything is too fast," they said, "and we need to slow it down."
That wasn't an easy adjustment for Megan, who had always been so active.
"One of the sad things is a lot of people who are hyper-thyroid don't realize it," Holly said. "They have more energy than normal people. Megan was an Energizer bunny. She could go and go and go because her thyroid was going so fast.
"Now she's no longer an Energizer bunny," Holly added.
"It doesn't feel 100 percent to me," Megan said. "I was the Energizer bunny. I'll never get back to that, but compared to where I was two years ago I'm feeling really good."
Stress and fatigue can trigger the symptoms so Megan has to closely monitor both.
"It's kind of hard getting used to a normal pace of life," Megan said. "I used to be able to go all the time and I like doing lots of things at once. So I had to limit myself and do things slower. I'm still trying to get used to that."
But it won't prevent her from playing lacrosse next year at Gordon College.
"I've been able to balance my schedule and get it in a way that works for me and works for my body so I'm not doing too much at once," Megan said. "I've been able to stay healthy for most of this year."
The consequences could have been much worse had the condition gone undetected.
"At the time I didn't realize how serious it was," she said. "When I started getting healthier and I looked back I was like, 'Oh wow, I was really sick.' It could have been really bad."
Currently, there is no cure for Graves disease.
"You're always going to have it," Holly said, "and you're always going to have to manage it. One doctor calls her the poster child for how to manage Graves disease successfully."
Megan must now be more disciplined about her health.
"I never really thought a lot about my health before," Megan said. "It kind of made me a lot more aware of my body and listening to my body and knowing what's too much for me.
"It was awful when I was going through it," she added, "but I think it's really made me a better person. It's opened my eyes to what so many other people have to go through."
Sources : Fosters.Com