My name is Bianca Belmonte and I went from living a “normal” life - working out at the gym, attending school full time, working and just keeping busy in general - to being diagnosed with a life threatening blood disorder, TTP.
Around the end of April 2014, I started to notice a lot of uncharacteristic body changes, all of which I dismissed with other explanations: bruises and small scratches on my hands, I must have knocked into something somewhere; red dots all over my body, must be a heat rash; horrible headaches, I’m just prone to migraines; constant fatigue, I probably just needed to get more sleep; and running out of breath quickly at any exercise activity, damn I must not be working out hard enough.
All the warning signs were there but I dismissed each of them, as they seemed so common and individually not threatening. I would convince myself that I was fine, nothing was wrong.
In the 2nd week of May 2014, I finished my finals and finally felt like I would have more time for myself to rest and re-energize, surely that’s all I needed. That Saturday, my mom and I decided to go out shopping. We were at a thrift shop and everything seemed completely normal, other than the shortness of breath, headaches and fatigue I had been experiencing for some time. Then suddenly, I felt a wave of heat going through my chest and the room began spinning and something wasn’t right with the right side of my face and left arm. Hindsight being 20/20, this was when we should have called an ambulance and rushed to the hospital., but I was still in denial that anything was seriously wrong with me. I agreed to go to the hospital but we would drive ourselves there; there was no need to panic.
When we arrived at the ER, I was immediately checked into a room and luckily, unlike many others, I was diagnosed with TTP rather quickly. The doctors provided me with the information they could, and explained how rare a disorder it is. It was also at this time that I learned of the suspected trigger to my TTP - I was expecting a baby, unbeknownst to me. I remember that exact moment when I found out; I was an even combination of ecstatic and afraid. I knew that I was nowhere near ready to be a mother but then again who really ever is? I kept this exciting news to myself for the time being. I did not want to share such joyous news while I was in the hospital being treated for TTP. Unfortunately, before I was able to share the news with anyone, I found out that I had lost the pregnancy. I was devastated!
My treatment while in the hospital included: a number of plasma exchanges, blood transfusions, a bone marrow test, a liver biopsy and chemo. Throughout my hospital stay, I experienced an array of emotions. I felt happiness with positive test results and anxiety in relation to my health. At certain times, being around large groups of people made me feel like I was on a roller coaster with my emotions.
I found it frustrating that doctors had no answer as to how I could heal or help myself get better from TTP, which led me to Google. Surely, there must be answers to my seemingly simple questions. My Google search is what ultimately lead me to finding an inspiring all-natural fellow TTP survivor. She taught me how to live organic and meditate, which she believes has helped her both physically and mentally. I continued to research and read up on natural ways to heal, which I believe helped me tremendously. My liver enzymes kept rising during my hospital stay. I found a local organic smoothie that I drank for 2 days and my liver enzymes went back to normal. Whether it was the smoothie or not, I believe it worked and that is why to this day, I still have my daily dose of vitamin green.
When the time finally came to be discharged, I felt confident in leaving the hospital and continuing treatment as an outpatient because I had an incredible team of doctors at UCSD Hillcrest. They genuinely cared for my health, well-being and emotional state. Each doctor, nurse and student that cared for me had a thirst for knowledge and were passionate about trying to help me and understand this disease. This alone gave me hope that maybe someday, there will be more answers available for TTP patients or even a cure.
I would like to say that I was strong throughout my TTP experience and that I did not have panic attacks and freak out. The truth is that it was my mom who really held it together and it was her strength that got me through this whole situation. Whether she was keeping it together inside or not, her appearance gave me reassurance. With her strength, combined with my dad’s faith for a positive outcome, I was able to still smile every day. I will forever appreciate all of the visitors, positive comments and vibes through social media and over the phone that I received during my stay in the hospital. I definitely feel that I left the hospital a changed person. I am happier, and more full of life than ever before. I am eager to learn more about this disease to help make a difference for other TTP patients.
One piece of advice that I would like to share with fellow TTP patients is to stay strong and positive, don’t focus on why this is happening to you or how unfair life is. Think about how and why you are going to conquer it! Smile every day!