“Gratitude is my attitude. I learned along the way that, when you’re in a life-altering situation, you can take two paths – curl up or catapult into the next chapter. I’m trying to make a truly delicious lemon-drop martini out of lemons.”
– Kathi McCarty
In early 2016, Kathi McCarty led a Denver-area bank branch with assets exceeding $100 million, the biggest branch in a five-state region for the large regional bank.
Then, her life changed nearly overnight.
It began with dry, gritty eyes, as if she had endured a sandstorm. Not long after that – and just two days after her father passed away in early 2016 – Kathi woke up with double vision.
What would cause her eyesight to deteriorate so suddenly and rapidly?
A Diagnosis of Graves’ Disease
Kathi got through the services for her father, and then took a slew of tests to rule out, fortunately, causes such as a brain tumor. Tests uncovered the cause of the sudden deterioration in her vision: Graves’ Disease, an autoimmune disorder that results in the overproduction of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism).
A segment of those with Graves’ disease, including Kathi, develop Graves’ ophthalmopathy, or Thyroid Eye Disease (TED), where inflammation affects the muscles and tissues around the eyes.
“The symptoms seemed surreal,” Kathi recalls. “I was so ‘busy’ navigating my world, managing my responsibilities after having planned and then unplanned time away from work, I didn’t even get checked out for several days. I just walked around numb by the sudden loss of my dad, with one eye shut. Perhaps I was afraid to know the ‘why.’ In retrospect, how dumb was that!”
With a referral from a friend, Kathi went to an ophthalmologist who immediately referred her to a neuropathologist. A Grave’s specialist, he recognized the symptoms immediately and referred her to an endocrinologist. She was on the path to wellness, or so she thought.
The World Goes Gray with Graves’ Disease
Leading up to the diagnosis, Kathi’s health had not been ideal. But until the eye irritation, she had not experienced any major warning signs that something was amiss. Admittedly, she didn’t eat well and lived a stressful, though positive, life as a financial executive.
“I didn’t know at the time, but I was borderline diabetic,” she says. “Sugar was my heroin. I had unusually high fatigue for me, but I thought that was just the pace of life managing my very busy branch, home and family.”
Her vision continued to deteriorate. A few months after her double vision came on, she again woke to a nasty surprise: loss of color in one eye. She received IV steroids weekly for several weeks to bring down the inflammation causing compression on the optic nerve. If this failed to work, orbital decompression surgery would be the next step – to prevent her from losing her sight altogether.
In mid-July 2016, Kathi took medical leave from her job and the next morning had surgery removing bone and fat around the right orbital area. Success! When Kathi woke up, she could see color again.
Unfortunately, within a few weeks, color disappeared in the left eye, requiring her to have the same procedure in that eye. Again the surgery was successful, with color restored to both eyes with no permanent damage to the optic nerves.
However, the surgeries had left both eyes highly misaligned; the right eye pointed significantly inward. She needed strabismus eye realignment surgery, but unfortunately, had to wait another six months for damaged muscle and tissue to heal from the previous surgeries.
Along with four surgeries over nine months, she began medication for hyperthyroidism and type 2 diabetes.
Natural Approaches to Reduce Autoimmune Inflammation
Yet Kathi also turned to natural approaches to reduce the overall inflammation in her body. She changed her diet to focus on fresh food, significantly reduced sugar and eliminated inflammation triggers for her, such as tomatoes.
Along with bringing down inflammation, she lost a significant amount of weight, which helped her diabetes.
“We can heal ourselves with food,” she says. “I went back to the Earth when it comes to nutrition and lifestyle, and that has made a significant difference in how I feel. Western medicine is truly complemented by these alternatives.”
In late 2016, Kathi also visited a 30-year friend, Mary Houge, who owns Acu-Na Wellness Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina. There, she sought alternative solutions to complement Western medicine.
The bodywork included acupuncture, massage and an amethyst medical biomat, an approach that treats the body at the cellular level with negative ions and far infrared rays.
“After only six daily treatments, I could not believe the difference in the inflammation reduction around my eyes, and how much better my body felt!” she says.
The combination of conventional and alternative health practices have significantly helped save her vision, and possibly her life. While her double vision has persisted, special prism lenses built into her eyeglass prescription helps her now see more clearly.
A New Career, and Adventure in Tropical Paradise
After more than a year of medical leave, Kathi attempted to return to her career, but found it required too many accommodations. Now, she’s taking a different path, leveraging her 30 years of experience to teach financial literacy to business owners and advising them as an independent consultant.
After working for three decades, Kathi also now relishes a slightly slower pace of life. While attending a Healing Waters Wellness Retreat in South Jamaica with her wellness mentor, Mary, the two learned of a piece of property for sale. Formerly owned by a Jamaican medicine man, the spot sits on a bluff just above the ocean and features a small organic fruit farm. Her friend, who runs wellness events and retreats, recognized it as a perfect site for lodging and continued retreats.
“Call me crazy, but we ended up buying a piece of property in Jamaica together,” she says. “Just all the pieces fell into place with the right friend and everything else ever since.”
Developing the property, and spending time there, have been hugely therapeutic for Kathi. The warm, humid climate is gentler on her body and eyes than the high-altitude, dry Colorado air. With three college-age children in the States, she doesn’t see herself moving there permanently, but looks to spend as much time there as possible hosting retreats and guests, and for continued personal healing.
“I cannot wait to get my kids down there to experience this amazing resort community and truly authentic Jamaican experience,” she says.
Rather than see her illness as a tragedy, she views it as a gift. “Graves’ disease did not happen to me, but rather for me,” she reflects. Without it, she would have continued on the same stressful path without taking care of herself.
Adjusting to her disability, and others’ reactions to it, has been challenging. “People can’t actually see your wound,” she says. “There’s huge stigma with that and I’m learning to navigate the prejudice that comes with having an illness that totally changed my life.”
Yet she’s beyond grateful to have retained her eyesight, and for all those in her life who stepped up to help her, including her immediate family, her close tribe of friends, her work family, and of course the team of doctors and practitioners that saved her sight and continue to help improve her health.
“Gratitude is my attitude” she says. “I learned along the way that, when you’re in a life-altering situation, you can take two paths – curl up or catapult into the next chapter. I’m trying to make a truly delicious lemon-drop martini out of lemons.”
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