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June Calendar Kid: Gretchen globetrots, graduates and more with help from CHoR
June 06, 2023
CHoR patient Gretchen looking at a map on a hike

    Gretchen Gregor, now an 18-year-old fresh high school graduate, has been on a roller coaster with her health since she was in fifth grade. With a new specialist by her side, and endless possibilities in front of her, things are looking up.

    Early symptoms that led to a POTS diagnosis

    The first big sign that something was wrong occurred during a hot summer tennis practice when Gretchen was 11. She felt faint, started seeing black dots, then passed out. She and her mom, Stacy, went to the pediatrician immediately. While explaining what happened and answering the doctor’s questions, they mentioned that Gretchen had been having some periodic dizziness, joint pain, fatigue and stomach issues, but they hadn’t thought too much of it. When putting the pieces together, the pediatrician said it sounded like Gretchen may be dealing with POTS – a diagnosis that was confirmed by a cardiologist during a follow-up visit.

    What is POTS and how is care different at CHoR?

    Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome – or POTS – is a blood circulation condition that causes painful and troublesome symptoms when standing for a period of time, or when going from a horizontal to standing position. POTS is a disorder of the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary body functions like heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and digestion.

    Gretchen learned to manage her symptoms through exercise, balancing water and salt in her diet, and taking appropriate breaks for fatigue or dizziness. This worked well enough for a while, but the symptoms grew more problematic again as Gretchen got older, with nausea and headaches added to the mix.

    Help for Gretchen from a new specialist on our gastroenterology team

    The good news? There was a new expert in town.

    “We heard about Dr. Chelimsky from our neighbor,” said Stacy. “Her child was diagnosed with POTS as well.”

    Dr. Gisela Chelimsky is a leading expert in neurogastroenterology and autonomic disorders and joined our team last year as chief of pediatric gastroenterology. She works alongside her husband, Dr. Thomas Chelimsky, who is an autonomic neurologist, to determine what role the brain is playing in the body’s response to situations. The combination of symptoms in POTS and other autonomic conditions can be seemingly unexplainable, unless you understand the complex nature of how the body and brain interact – making the Chelimskys the perfect pairing for patients facing these diagnoses.

    The brain receives signals and responds to tell the body how to react to stimuli. These reactions often involve pain when the brain is in a constant state of fight-or-flight response. Patients will come to Dr. Chelimsky after seeing a series of other physicians for vomiting, nausea, chronic fatigue and pain, headaches and poor sleep, the answers for which don’t show up in tests or scans.

    “As a GI specialist, I work with patients experiencing neuro/gastro and autonomic conditions,” said Dr. Gisela Chelimsky. “I don’t have a magic pill, and I can’t address their issues in a 15-minute appointment, but I make sure they know that I believe them and I’m going to develop a relationship of trust with them to tackle these symptoms and challenges together.”

    From the first appointment, Gretchen appreciated the time and understanding Dr. Chelimsky gave her, both about her physical symptoms and the emotional impacts they’ve had.

    “I felt like someone actually understood and listened to me,” said Gretchen.

    Mom agreed.

    “Dr. Chelimsky is thorough and compassionate. I feel like she truly wants to help her patients. She also spends a lot of time with her patients which means everything,” added Stacy.

    A commitment to healthy habits and making memories

    With Gretchen’s dedication to doing what it takes to feel better, and Dr. Chelimsky’s guidance and support to tackle her specific needs, things have been getting better. Gretchen has been taking vitamin supplements, going for walks, doing breathing exercises and working with a cognitive behavioral therapist to understand her brain’s pain response, but it’s not a fast or finite process.

    CHoR patient Gretchen and her mom smiling in ArizonaWhile Gretchen’s pain and other symptoms haven’t gone away entirely, she was feeling well enough to put on her creepy clown costume and scare visitors at the Red Vein Haunt in Ashland the last two Halloween seasons. She loves the rush of it – and the respect the Red Vein team has for her condition and need to take occasional breaks throughout her shifts. She was also able to overcome her anxiety about flare-ups and travel to Arizona earlier this year and more recently to Ireland with her parents.

    “It was amazing, and we really had a great time,” said Stacy of her family’s Ireland trip. “Gretchen still struggles, and some days are better than others, but she is continuing to try to get out and explore the world and continues to enjoy photography and getting great pictures of wildlife.”

    Gretchen just achieved another milestone, earning her high school diploma. She completed most of her coursework virtually, which led to some social isolation but was the best option to accommodate for times of exhaustion and not feeling well. As she plans to study psychology or biology in college, her parents couldn’t be prouder of what’s she’s overcome and accomplished – and it’s just the beginning.

    Gretchen’s path to wellness and the new experts at CHoR were recently spotlighted in Richmond Family Magazine.

    Learn more about Dr. Chelimsky and the unique expertise she brings to CHoR.

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