Tube Feeding and IV Fluids are Keeping Me Alive and Helping Me Become A Doctor

By Claudia Martinez

Claudia Martinez_Patient Stories ThumbnailI’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 began.

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 and physicians.

May 2019 update: Claudia is currently completing a residency in physical medicine & rehabilitation (PM&R).

Read more patient stories