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Physician attacked by rare condition

June 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A physician involved in a horrific crash ends up suffering from a rare condition.She walks with a cane and two caretakers because at any time she can get very weak. Dr. Margaret Ferrante's health problems started two years ago after a horrific crash on the Pacific Coast Highway. She and her 3-year-old daughter walked away. But soon after she wasn't feeling so well.

"I felt very, very light-headed. I was shaky, my hands would sweat and my head hurt," said Dr. Ferrante.

Followed by numerous fainting spells. Before her accident Ferrante worked as an anesthesiologist and a critical-care specialist. But despite her medical knowledge she felt she wasn't being taken seriously. She saw dozens of doctors. Many thought she was depressed or suffered post-traumatic stress.

"It seemed that nobody knew how bad it was except for me because I was living in the body," said Dr. Ferrante.

After 10 hospitalizations, she finally met Good Samaritan Hospital cardiologist David Cannom. His diagnosis: a rare condition called Dysautonomia. It usually happens after severe head trauma or infection.

"First off the patient will have blackout spells, syncope. And secondly when the patient, when they black out they do so because their blood pressure drops precipitously," said Dr. Cannom.

Dysautonomia is a malfunction of the autonomic nervous system which regulates unconscious functions such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Ferrante's blood wasn't circulating.

Doctors pumped saline directly to her heart. She wears compression socks, takes medication to raise her blood pressure and stays hydrated. Doctors say the symptoms can go away as mysteriously as they came.

"This phenomenon that we're describing will typically resolve over a period of years, I'm not sure why that happens," said Dr. Cannom.

During her recovery, Dr. Ferrante wrote a book to help other patients who feel frustrated, frightened and afraid.

"I wanted to explain scientifically as a scientist what I was feeling and what I was going through in case something happened. Maybe it will help the next person," said Dr. Ferrante.

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