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Once you choose hope, anything’s possible. -Christopher Reeve

Four months ago I got my muscle biopsy results. It showed severe deficiencies and came with the official diagnosis of Mitochondrial Disease. Although I had lived over a year with a “clinical diagnosis,” it had suddenly become real. Really real. I found myself at a crossroad: I could breakdown and cry; or, I could do something about it.

That night I spoke with my best friend and expressed how I felt. Less than a year earlier, she had had the same conversation with her physicians. She heard those same words: “You have mitochondrial disease.” She felt the reality come over herself. And she chose to fight back.

We spoke for a long time about what we could do. How we could change the future. How we could keep this horrible disease from consuming our every wish and dream. Our every hope.

It was on that night that the Show of Hope was first conceived.

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While inpatient with mitochondrial disease, you’re often an enigma. Most of the health professionals have either never heard of this disease or might vaguely remember it being mentioned back in medical school. And those who have heard of it often have misconceptions (e.g. “all people with mito have some sort of mental delays/retardation” or “mito only affects infants and toddlers”). That’s why I make each and every admission a chance to educate about mitochondrial disease.

Because it’s a complex disease and involves “difficult” vocabulary, it’s easier to describe with analogies. Usually we use the “my batteries don’t work efficiently” analogy, but there are so many other ways to look at the disease. Recently, Chuck Mohan, the CEO of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, made an extensive list of other ways to describe mitochondrial disease. Because it might just help one new person understand it, I’m going to share his list here:

Mitochondrial Disease is like:

  • Replacing your car battery with two Double “A” Energizers and wondering why it won’t start. But your car still looks pretty good, that is until it begins to rust from inactivity.
  • Trying to supply the electrical requirements of Los Angeles (pop. 3.7 million) with the one electrical plant in Ranchester Wyoming (pop. 701).
  • Swimming against Olympian, 8 Gold Medal winner, Michael Phelps, and you’re pool is filled with molasses.
  • That dream you have where you are trying to run away from danger but you just can’t move? Yep, that’s mitochondrial disease.
  • The way you feel after running a 50 yard dash compared to the way you feel after running a 50 yard dash with a 50 pound knapsack on your back.
  • The way you feel after working an 18 hour day or 18 days without a day off. Well, if you had a mitochondrial disease you’d probably feel that way after breakfast.
  • Buying a perfectly good Volkswagen Beetle with a 110 horsepower engine. It’s a great looking car and it runs terrific. Now take out a ring, gum up the valves, add some sugar to the gas tank and put in an old head gasket. The car still looks great but now it will only generate about 50 horsepower. That will get the Volkswagen around the flat streets of Kansas on a spring day, but now load it up with 3 of your hefty friends, or more if they’ll fit, with a trunk full of luggage and take it to the hills of Western Pennsylvania on a 90’ day. It won’t make it! But it still looks great!

For more from Chuck Mohan, go to umdfblog.com.

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It’s hard to describe exactly how I’m feeling.  My emotions are still incredibly complex and difficult to decipher.

For well over a year, I’ve lived with a “clinical” diagnosis of mitochondrial disease, the result of a lifetime of various symptoms and presentations. What does this entail? Many of my doctors felt that my symptoms and test results were indicative of mito. And they were going to treat it as such. Unfortunately, there is a bit of a stigma attached to a clinical diagnosis. Both in the medical field and among other Mitovians (families affected by mito). Physicians don’t take it seriously (no “proof”!) and frequently suggest a psychological basis (either on behalf of the parent or the patient) to explain the multitude of medical issues – despite tests implying otherwise. And the mito community itself frequently scoffs at clinical diagnoses. Despite all the good we gain from the camaraderie provided by the amazing support network of the mito community, there is also plenty of judgment and doubt.  Some diagnoses are deemed “more serious” or “more true” based on the diagnosis method.  It’s unfortunate, but true.

There are diagnoses based on muscle biopsies (these seem to be given the most credence, despite the high false negative rate).  And there are diagnoses based on genetic mutations or deletions (these are usually given a good bit of respect, but have a high false positive rate, because although mutations are present, they may not be expressed).  Finally, at the bottom, we have “clinical diagnosis.”  These are generally symptom-based with a few objective studies and laboratories to back up the decision.  These are often regarded as untrue, made-up, without basis.  And it sucks that patients aren’t given care by doctors just because these clinical diagnoses are not believed.

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