Young Woman’s Battle With Autoimmune Disease Inspires her to be a Voice for Others

Young Woman’s Battle With Autoimmune Disease Inspires her to be a Voice for Others

Maggie was playing volleyball when she fell and developed a huge bruise across her stomach.

“My family and I thought it might be due to low iron,” Maggie remembered. She was 14 years old at the time, an active and intelligent girl from Katy, Texas. “So, we went to my Texas Children’s pediatrician and got it checked out. My doctor told me that my platelet count was low and that I needed to go to the ER.”

According to Maggie’s pediatrician, it was likely that Maggie had a disease called immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), which he was able to immediately identify because his own daughter has the same disease. “I feel very fortunate that he recognized the disease right away, since ITP can be difficult to diagnose.”

Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Center confirmed Maggie’s diagnosis of ITP, which is, in her own words, “an autoimmune disease where your immune system attacks your platelets. It causes a low platelet count which is bad because platelets are a major clotting factor in your blood. When you get cut or hit something, the platelets rush to the site to clot the blood, but as I have low platelets, I experience a lot more bleeding and bruise more frequently.”

Few patients are able to explain their diagnosis so well, particularly one that is so complex. In Maggie’s case, it was her journey with ITP that led her to an interest in medicine. Now 20 years old, Maggie will be attending Baylor University’s Louise Herrington School of Nursing next year and ultimately plans to become a nurse practitioner specializing in pediatrics.

“I want to make a difference for people like me, and everyone here at Texas Children’s has made such a good difference,” Maggie explained with a smile. “Everyone’s so nice and so excited that I’m going to go into nursing. Maybe I’ll work here one day—that’s the dream. Give me a few years and I’ll be a Texas Children’s employee. I want to pass it forward and do it for someone else someday.”

In her time at Texas Children’s, Maggie has formed a close bond with her Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology physician and Associate Director of the inpatient clinical division, Dr. Amanda Grimes.

“When I first came to Texas Children’s Hospital, I thought Dr. Grimes was cool. I noticed she was a good listener, and we could banter back and forth,” Maggie said. “Even today, what I look forward to most during my appointments is having the chance to catch up with her. We don’t just talk about me and ITP, but everything going on in the world of hematology. I’m so fascinated by it and I’m so lucky that she’ll take the time to talk about it with me, even though she’s got a million things to do and not a lot of time. She’s even recommended scholarships I should apply for and what classes to take. She’s been not just a good doctor to me, but a mentor as well.”

Someone else who has provided invaluable support to Maggie throughout her journey with ITP is her brother, Owen.

“I’m the oldest out of five and Owen is next in line,” Maggie explained. “We’re all close, but Owen’s 15 months younger than I am, so he’s basically my twin, my ‘built-in’ best friend. He complains, but he comes everywhere with me, and I do the same for him. It was hard when I went off to college as it was the first time we didn’t go to the same school.”

Owen now is a sophomore at the University of Houston, but he still makes the long trip to Baylor to see his older sister. “Even though he’s not really into sports, we have fun with our schools’ rivalry.”

As for Maggie’s condition, she was happy to give newly diagnosed ITP patients some advice. “Stock up on Tylenol as you’ll get a lot of headaches. I would also invest in some “shell-toe”. Stubbed toes tend to bleed a lot.”

Her final piece of advice to patients would be to take the diagnosis in stride. “Make a joke. It’s okay to be funny with it. Try to take it a bit more lightly—it will help you through it.”

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