By Claudia Martinez
I’m not your typical medical student. Beneath my white coat
lives a patient.
In 2011, I was diagnosed with Chiari malformation, a
condition in which a portion of the cerebellum herniates out of the bottom of
the skull and compresses the brainstem. I’ve had several brain surgeries to
alleviate the compression on my brainstem, but in 2016 I lost nearly all muscle
control of my pharynx and esophagus, making it extremely difficult to swallow
any food. At the time I was a 2nd year medical student at McGovern Medical
School in Houston, TX, so I kept mum about the situation in order not to derail
my studies. Eventually the lack of nutrients in my body landed me in the emergency
room and I was admitted to the hospital. This is when my feeding tube journey
Initially, a nasogastric (NG) tube was placed, then a percutaneous
endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube, and then a low-profile gastrostomy device.
My feeding tube was keeping me alive since I couldn’t swallow anything by
mouth. I had several more brain surgeries near my brainstem to try to regain my
ability to swallow. Thankfully the last brain surgery I had in February 2017
worked, but unfortunately, I suffered a stroke during the surgery and initially
couldn’t function from the neck down.
Although that brain surgery gave me the ability to swallow,
it also caused me to develop gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach is
partially paralyzed. This entire time, my feedings were going into my stomach,
but now since my stomach was partially paralyzed none of my feedings were being
digested and instead I was vomiting my feeds. Over the next year I became very
malnourished and was losing a significant amount of weight. In March 2018, a
different type of feeding tube was placed, this time a gastrostomy-jejunostomy
(G-J) feeding tube. This allows me to be fed straight into my jejunum, the small
intestine, bypassing my partially paralyzed stomach. I also had a port placed
in my chest in which I receive IV fluids to keep me hydrated.
My feeding tube is keeping me alive and because of it I am
able to continue my dream of becoming a doctor. As healthcare providers, we are
not immune to illness and with my experience I hope to bridge the gap between patients
May 2019 update: Claudia is currently completing a residency in physical medicine & rehabilitation (PM&R).
Read more patient stories.