Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The proper medication does not only control seizures, it has no side effects either!

Ten miles into the Girlfriends Half Marathon on Oct. 19, Sandy Valentine was feelin’ good.Then ... trouble.As she crossed the new land bridge over Highway 14 into the Vancouver National Historic Reserve, a breakdown added to the challenge of running 13.1 miles.But, after waiting five years for the opportunity to race again, Valentine was determined.

An iPod malfunction wouldn’t keep her from the finish line.“I was probably running too fast,” Valentine joked. “The iPod just froze and I couldn’t get it back again.“Then I saw that hill going up to Officer’s Row and then it’s like, ‘I don’t know. It’s a mind game now.’ “Head games are something Sandy Valentine knows well. Too well.A survivor of two brain aneurysms — 15 years apart — Valentine is an avid runner.

But the Oct. 19 half marathon in Vancouver was her first race since she and some close friends completed the 2002 Hood to Coast Relay.That Hood to Coast was a celebration, coming eight months after Valentine had surgery to repair her second brain aneurysm. She had twice survived a medical challenge that statistically ends in death more than half of the time, and among survivors often leaves lasting brain damage.

She beat long odds just getting to that 2002 Hood to Coast Relay. But it would be six long years before she would race again alongside some dear friends.Instead of pounding pavement, organizing group getaways and enjoying photography, Valentine spent much of the next four years at home on a rust-colored couch.During the winter after that Hood to Coast, Valentine was playing golf with friends on a trip to Palm Springs.

“All of a sudden, I just felt awful,” she recalled.At first, she figured the spells were part of the healing process. Deep down, she knew the seizures were something else.It would be almost five years before friends would again recognize the Sandy Valentine they love.The seizures and side effects including weight gain, weight loss, fatigue, memory loss and allergic reactions often kept Valentine at home. On her better days, she would muster the energy to attend daughter Carly’s soccer games.

Still, Valentine kept faith that the medicines her doctors had prescribed would begin to work their magic. Her previous experience as an aneurysm patient had taught her that a body needs plenty of recovery time.Friends, though, could see Valentine was not well. They watched and worried as she lost weight and slept away long hours. Among those friends were her running pals.Beginning in the early 1990s, Nancy Kerr, Debbie Krebs, Salber, Andie Sperry, Michela Euser and Valentine built a friendship while sharing the road on morning runs in the North Salmon Creek area.

They talked about their challenges in life, and traveled together to races.Valentine was at the core of the Pavement Pounders, the group’s name for itself. When they started traveling to races together, Sandy was often the instigator. Seeing her ill pained her friends.“We were going to have an intervention over her medicine.

We were so worried because it was taking her to the core,” Kerr said.“It was very hard because we did a lot of our talking and keeping up with each other when we were running,” Salber said.Sandy’s Pavement Pounder friends decided an intervention was not their place. But their individual nagging did not seem to register.Sandy said her medicine made her “fuzzy.”

Then came the day she fit into her high school daughter’s clothes, realized how thin she’d become, and decided to seek help.In the spring of 2006, Valentine was referred to Dr. Mary Ransom, a neurology specialist at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. Concerned that Valentine was having seizures, but also suffering significant side effects from her seizure medicines, Ransom had Sandy admitted to the hospital for extended observation.

It is not unusual for seizure medicine to cause fatigue and mood changes in patients, Ransom said.“It’s always a challenge finding a seizure medication that is right for a patient,” the doctor said.By hospitalizing Valentine, it was possible to quickly take her off her seizure medicine and watch how she reacted. Valentine did not experience any seizures during that hospital stay — when a seizure might have helped the doctor to better understand her condition.

Still, that hospital stay helped Ransom quickly shift to new medication.It took a while to build up to a full dose of the new medicine, and some time more for Valentine to build the strength to run.“Part of her healing, recovery and improvement is coming from her,” Ransom said. “It’s not so much what we’ve done here, but what she’s done to help herself” by continuing to look for solutions.By June, about a year after meeting Ransom, she felt well enough to contact Euser — who moved away several years ago — with an idea:Salber planned to run the Girlfriends Half Marathon in October to celebrate turning 50.

Wouldn’t it be neat if they ran it, too, with Euser showing up as a surprise for the birthday girl?“Neither of us had run in quite a few years,” Euser said. “I needed a challenge to get me back out on the road running again, I wanted to celebrate Karen’s birthday, and I wanted to support Sandy on yet another optimistic adventure.”

On Oct. 19, Euser was ready. Krebs and Sperry ran, too. Kerr did not enter the half marathon, but was often around to support Valentine during her training runs.But as she crossed the land bridge on Oct. 19, Sandy Valentine was on her own.

She would have to fight through the final two miles of the half marathon without Diana Ross providing iPod energy.“(The finish line) couldn’t have come soon enough,” Valentine said. “I hit the 13th mile and it’s like, ‘Oh, my gosh’, and then it was another block and then another block.”Then she turned the last corner at 13th and Main in downtown Vancouver and, 2 hours, 9 minutes and 41 seconds after the starting gun — and more than six years after that celebratory Hood to Coast Relay — Sandy Valentine finished the race.

For the record, she placed 297th among 856 finishers.“For a healthy person to run a half marathon is something pretty special, so with all that she’s gone through with her health problems, it’s pretty amazing,” Sperry said as the Pavement Pounders celebrated being together at another finish line.For Valentine and her friends, this wasn’t just another race. It was a celebration of life reclaimed.

“I’ve had wonderful, wonderful doctors over the years. I’m so glad they’re practicing medicine,” Valentine said. “And it’s enriched my life in a different way. You appreciate it: your health, your family, your friends.“And I’m back,” she added, her smile saying more than her words.“It feels good to feel good.”


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