Worth the Effort (Vickie Jahaske: dermatomyositis)

Article Highlights:
  • Vickie Jahaske, of Tucson, Ariz., has dermatomyositis and two children.
  • During her second pregnancy, she developed health complications, including diabetes and high blood pressure.
by Margaret Wahl, Amy Labbe and Miriam Davidson on June 30, 2010 - 5:01pm

QUEST Vol. 17, No. 3

Vickie Jahaske, 46
Tucson, Ariz.

Vickie Jahaske had always dreamed of having children, but that dream almost died with her diagnosis of dermatomyositis at age 23.

Her symptoms began with weakness and pain in her legs and arms, and a rash on her face that she thought was caused by allergies. She had just gotten married, and, she recalls, “I tried to ignore my symptoms until I was unable to hold up my toothbrush.”

Vickie Jahaske and her second baby

Unlike many with this disease, Jahaske received a correct diagnosis right away, and began treatment with the anti-inflammatory medication prednisone and the immunosuppressant methotrexate. Even so, her symptoms worsened to the point where she needed a feeding tube to eat. “I remember asking the therapist, ‘Will I ever swallow again?,’ and she didn’t know the answer,” she says.

Jahaske fell into a deep depression that was only alleviated when her prednisone dose was reduced. She recovered somewhat and went back to work, in the legal department at Motorola.

“I made an agreement with my doctor that if I could stay off the methotrexate for six months, he would allow me to get pregnant.”

Jahaske’s first child, a healthy boy, was born when she was 27. The pregnancy was normal — in fact her rash even improved — but when her water broke and labor failed to progress, she had to have an emergency Caesarean. After the birth, her dermatomyositis flared again. She went back on methotrexate and also began receiving intravenous infusions of immunoglobulins (another immunosuppressive treatment) every three months for years. “I never regained the amount of health I had before the pregnancy,” she says.

Her health declined even further during her second pregnancy, when she was 33. “This one was difficult. My doctor told me I was giving him gray hair.”

Jahaske developed high blood pressure, diabetes, a deficiency of blood-clotting cells and hair loss, all probably related to her anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant medications. She also developed calcinosis, hard lumps of calcium under her skin, caused by her dermatomyositis, and the disease-related rash on her back and face spread.

Jahaske gave birth vaginally to a healthy girl, but within days, she began to lose her eyesight. Her vision grew so blurry and dark she could hardly see the baby while nursing. Her high blood pressure had caused macular edema, or swelling in her eyes. “Once again, the doctors could not predict if I would recover or not.”

Jahaske slowly recovered, and her vision returned to normal, but she never went back to work after her second child. Her energy level dropped, and she continues to have high blood pressure, diabetes and the painful symptoms of dermatomyositis. The red rash on her back is as big and hard as a dinner plate. She wears caps, bandannas, and wigs to cover the rash and her few wisps of hair.

Although her pregnancies apparently worsened her fragile health, Jahaske said she is grateful to be able to have children, for her husband’s unwavering support, and for the help she’s received from MDA.

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