A medical student in Texas is on her way to earning her degree even after undergoing six major brain surgeries throughout her time in college.
Claudia Martinez, 28, underwent experimental surgery in 2012 to address a debilitating brain condition known as Chiari malformation. The illness causes brain tissues to extend into the spinal cord, resulting in permanent paralysis.
She had undergone five more operations since then and even suffered a stroke, which left her unable to move from the neck down.
Despite these struggles, Martinez was able to recover enough to allow her to continue her education. She went on to graduate from the University of Texas with a 4.0 grade point average and was accepted to its medical school. She is now a year away from achieving her dream of becoming a doctor.
In an interview with Fox News, Martinez talked about what helped keep her going in spite of all the challenges she has a face.
"My journey has been long and at times has felt impossible, but what keeps me going is my future patients," she said.
"I've learned we don't necessarily need a cure. We need inclusion, we need patience, we need accessibility, and we need individuals who are willing to work with us to give us the reasonable accommodations that, by law, we are entitled to."
What Is Chiari Malformation?
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Chiari malformations are structural defects located in the base of the skull and cerebellum. Both of these areas help control the body's balance.
Healthy people have their cerebellum and parts of the brain stem sitting just above the opening in their skull to allow the spinal cord to pass through the structure, which is commonly known as the foramen magnum.
However, when a portion of the cerebellum abnormally extends well below the foramen magnum and even into the upper spinal canal, this results in what is called a Chiari malformation.
Doctors believe CM often develops when part of the human skull is either misshapen or smaller than normal. This causes the cerebellum to be pushed down into the spinal canal and the foramen magnum.
The condition also places pressure on the cerebellum and brain stem, resulting in a blockage of cerebrospinal fluid flow and affecting normal functions of both brain parts.
Causes Of Chiari Malformation
There are several possible causes of CM to develop in people. The most common cause is structural defects in the spinal cord and brain, which sometimes occur during fetal development. This can be caused by genetic mutations or poor diet on the part of the mother. Doctors call this condition primary or congenital Chiari malformation.
Another possible cause is an excessive draining of spinal fluid from the lumbar or thoracic areas of the spine. This can be caused by disease, infection, or traumatic injury. This condition is called acquired or secondary Chiari malformation.
Common symptoms of CM include neck pain, hearing or balance problems, muscle numbness or weakness, dizziness, difficulty in speaking or swallowing, and vomiting. In some cases, sufferers also experience insomnia, depression, and problems with their hand coordination and use of their fine motor skills.
In Martinez's case, she suffered a seizure while she was studying at the University of Texas. She also had a stroke, which robbed her of much of her mobility.
After her series of surgeries, Martinez was transferred to the TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital for her rehabilitation. This helped her recover her ability to walk, feed, dress, and even bathe by herself again.
She now splits her time recovering and finishing medical school. She also shares her experiences with people on social media.
"I thank God everyday for what I've gone through, [because] it is how I've found my calling," Martinez wrote on one of her posts.
"I've officially decided to pursue a residency in PM&R (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation)."