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Breaking Through Sarcoidosis: One Patient's Path to Resilience

Tammy sitting on a wall in front of blooming trees

Tammy George found herself in a dizzying turn of events on April 15, 2019, when she collapsed at work in the dentist's office, only to awaken to the surreal sight of her coworker administering CPR. Later that same day, facing a second collapse at home, Tammy knew she couldn’t dismiss these fainting spells as mere anomalies.

"I never experienced anything like that in my life," she recalled.

Seeking answers, Tammy rushed to the emergency room where a startling diagnosis awaited her: severe heart block. With her symptoms demanding urgent attention, the local cardiologist recommended a pacemaker implantation to regulate her heart rate.

"No one could explain why this happened or why I had heart block," Tammy said.

The pacemaker seemed to stabilize her condition, and Tammy’s life resumed its normal course. However, a year later, a new concern emerged when Tammy noticed a rash on her scalp. A biopsy conducted by her dermatologist revealed a diagnosis of sarcoidosis—a rare condition where the body's immune system's abnormal response targets specific organs.

Having known a friend who battled pulmonary sarcoidosis, Tammy had some familiarity with the disease. Yet she found herself unprepared for the challenges ahead. Treatment involved cortisone injections and abstaining from hair color treatments—an adjustment she found particularly daunting.

Though the rash eventually cleared, Tammy's health took a downturn a year later, marked by heart problems and debilitating fatigue, forcing her to step away from work. 

"I couldn’t even walk across the room," she recounted. "I go from this healthy person, going 100 miles an hour, to suddenly I can’t do anything. I thought this was my life."
Tammy George, patient

This time, a referral led her to Line Kemeyou, MD, a cardiologist at University of Utah Health. Kemeyou’s expertise untangled the complexities of Tammy's case. Her sarcoidosis had chosen an atypical target—her heart—a manifestation of the disease that required a multidisciplinary treatment approach.

"Patients with biopsy-proven sarcoidosis or suspected sarcoidosis require thorough evaluation for cardiac involvement," Kemeyou emphasized. "Tammy's case underscores the challenges in managing sarcoidosis, from diagnosis to treatment."

Given the disease's ability to mimic other conditions and affect various organs differently, it is imperative to establish a correct diagnosis and determine a management strategy. Treatment typically involves symptom management and reduction of inflammation through medications, necessitating ongoing medical care and monitoring.

Kemeyou highlighted the importance of specialized care for sarcoidosis patients, emphasizing the need for collaboration among medical professionals. That’s exemplified by the Multidisciplinary Sarcoidosis Program at U of U Health, which Kemeyou directs.

Despite the hurdles, Tammy's resolve remains unshaken. "I'm determined to keep living," she affirmed.

Grateful for her family, friends, and the teams at U of U Health who supported her through her diagnosis, Tammy continues to embrace life's challenges with unwavering determination. Her journey toward recovery wasn't easy; it was marked by moments of doubt, fear, and frustration. But through it all, Tammy's unwavering spirit and the support of her loved ones helped her navigate the darkest days.

As she continues her path to healing, Tammy hopes to raise awareness about sarcoidosis and inspire others facing similar challenges to never lose hope. Her story is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of perseverance in the face of adversity.