June 17, 2008

Arnold Woman Sidelined By Exhaustion Chronic Fatigue an ‘Under Recognized’ Illness


Toni Marshall remembers the days when it was easy to leave the house and go to work, but that was 15 years ago.

The Arnold resident once worked as a tax auditor, spending long hours going over invoices while staying involved in several social groups.

But her activity plunged after she developed a sinus infection. Even after it cleared up, she noticed she could get 12 to 15 hours of sleep and still wake up exhausted.

She was concerned and eventually reached a doctor who told her she was among the more than 4 million Americans with Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome. It is unclear how many state or county residents suffer from the syndrome.

Aside from exhaustion, sufferers have short-term memory loss, pain in the joints and unrefreshing sleep.

The illness has caused Ms. Marshall to retire. Now she gets around with the help of an aide and tries to be active in area support groups. There is no known cure and some patients recover on their own. However, Ms. Marshall is not one of them.

"I'm tall, I'm broad and I'm strong," she said. "I just thought that whatever this is, I know I can lick it. I needed someone who had a clue, (who) would take it seriously and let me know I had something and whether it was easy to deal with."

The condition is more common in women, who have 522 cases per 100,000 women, according to the Chronic Fatigue Immune Disorder Association of America. One of the problems with the disorder is that many more people may have it, but have not been diagnosed, officials said.

The association is coming to Baltimore at the end of the month as part of a national campaign to educate the public. From June 23 to June 29, the Maryland Science Center will display portraits and stories of families impacted by the illness.

It has been a challenge to bring attention to chronic fatigue, said Dr. Peter Rowe, director of the Chronic Fatigue Clinic at Johns Hopkins Children's Center.

"It's under-recognized and under-treated," said Dr. Rowe, who is also a professor of pediatrics. "Studies have shown that people with this as their health status can be as bad as people with lupus, multiple sclerosis and congestive heart failure. It can really have a substantial impact on people's lives."

The problems started for Ms. Marshall in 1993. At that time, she was being treated for a sinus infection and doctors discovered she also had a deficiency in vitamin B12. She received shots and medication to recover from the deficiency and assumed everything would be fine.

Yet Ms. Marshall noticed a difference when she returned to work. She had trouble learning simple tasks and fell behind. She remembered coming home from work in the evenings only to put a meal in the microwave and rest in her chair until her food was finished. But she would fall into a deep sleep long before her 6-minute meals were ready and wouldn't wake up until the middle of the night, still feeling exhausted.

"It was a scary, scary time," Ms. Marshall said. "It is a comfort to talk to people who understand and experienced similarly. None of us have experienced the same things, (but) we suffer similarly. It is a comfort to talk to people who have a clue what that's like."

Her situation is not uncommon, since chronic fatigue develops out of other infectious illnesses. Even though there is no cure, there are ways to help patients cope, Dr. Rowe said. One thing that seems to help is to get the patient to gradually adapt to a non-strenuous exercise regimen.

"Inactivity is the enemy," Dr. Rowe said. "You've got to keep on pushing."

For more information about the photo exhibit, call the CFID Association at 704-365-2343 or visit http://www.cfids.org/sparkcfs/ photo.asp {Corrections:} {Status:}


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