“It was like my ability to eat quantities had shrunk and shrunk, until eventually I couldn’t eat anything,” Brown told People, recalling that she began to suffer from severe abdominal pain and debilitating nausea around the same time. “I would be in tears from the pain and so angry because it didn’t make any sense.”
As her health worsened, and people began to assume she was suffering from an eating disorder, Brown turned to doctors in an exhausting search for answers. She said she was “passed back and forth” between specialists who performed a litany of gastrointestinal tests, such as gastric imaging, endoscopy and colonoscopy, according to Good Houskeeping.
Despite visits to numerous doctors, at least one of whom hopelessly prescribed her acid reflux medication, Brown’s weight continued to plummet.
“Time kept passing and passing,” she told Good Housekeeping. “It was just insane — and I ended up with no answers.”
A measure of hope would finally arrive in December 2013, when a gastroenterologist at Froedbert Hospital in Milwaukee noticed in a former CT scan and angiogram that a portion of Brown’s intestine was pinched, according to Good Housekeeping.
“She could see the pinched area of my intestine very clearly in the scan and the actual doctors reports,” Brown, now 32, told the magazine. “There were also notations by other doctors about the pinch, suggesting further investigation for superior mesenteric artery syndrome. But nobody ever told me, which is frustrating. Now, I tell people to be their own advocate and check your own medical records.”
She was eventually diagnosed with superior mesenteric artery (SMA) syndrome, a rare digestive system disorder in which a portion of the small intestine is compressed, obstructing food from passing through, according to the National Institutes of Health.
After undergoing a corrective surgery designed to reroute food around her blocked intestine, Brown’s health improved temporarily before the vomiting and weight loss returned. It was a blow to her health as well as her marriage, which has been on hold for years: Instead of spending more time with his ailing wife, Patrick Brown has been forced to work long hours at his engineering job to cover the couple’s steep medical bills.
“What is it like to watch this?” he told Good Housekeeping. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through. It’s constantly on your mind that your wife is dying but you need to pay the bills. I worry daily, leaving and not knowing what could happen.”
After creating a YouTube video about her condition in January, Lisa Brown’s mother sent the video to the Cleveland Clinic, where there are experts on SMA syndrome, according to People. Too weak to take commercial flights or ride in a vehicle for long distances, Brown lucked out when a local business offered to fly her to Cleveland on a private jet, People reported.
“Before we got this offer, I wanted to just pick her up and carry her there,” Patrick Brown told People. “We really found hope when we got to the hospital in Cleveland.”
Once she’d arrived, Brown told Good Housekeeping, doctors spent more than two weeks working to stabilize her before doing any tests. After she’d gained six pounds — bringing her weight up to 94 pounds — Matthew Kroh, director of surgical endoscopy, was able to confirm that Brown suffers from SMA syndrome.
To her surprise, the doctor also diagnosed her with gastroparesis, a condition in which the stomach muscles fail to move properly.
“The nerve endings that allow your stomach to pump to process the food and push it down your intestines are somehow damaged,” Brown told Good Housekeeping, explaining the condition. “They’re paralyzed so your stomach can’t drain.”
Brown told people that she continues to struggle with pain, but has gained eight pounds in recent weeks.
On July 15, she underwent surgery at the Cleveland Clinic to fit her with a rejejunostomy feeding tube.
Her family has also started a GoFundMe page to pay Brown’s exorbitant medical bills. To date, the page has raised just over $10,000 toward Brown’s $50,000 goal.
As she slowly gets stronger, she told People that she hopes to gain more mobility back home, allowing her to go out in public and gain a semblance of normalcy in her daily life.
Among her biggest goals, she said, is reclaiming her marriage.
“When it comes to my marriage, there is a lot of guilt that goes along with it for me,” she told People. “Patrick always told me that he meant what he said when he told me that he would be there for me in sickness and in health. I can’t express how much that means to me.”
Patrick Brown told People the couple has much to look forward to.
“She’s beautiful, intelligent and so young,” he said. “Years from now, we are going to look back at this and think, ‘Wow, we got through that, we can get through anything.’ ”