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ANTWYNETTE HOUSTON’S CONTINUING MEDICAL ODYSSEY

HER RELENTLESS PURSUIT TO FIND MEDICAL RELIEF

BY:  GEORGE ADDISON

“It takes an extraordinary toll on me to re-live my experiences, the horrors of my past and the pain I had to endure. And yet, I believe remembering is the only way to promote healing, to promote awareness and accountability.”

Ger Duany

It’s been three years since Antwynette Houston was brutally assaulted  by retired LMPD officer Scott Sturgeon in Louisville, Kentucky.  She has endured physical, emotional and financial hardship and has undergone  multiple surgeries as a result of the incident.  Her journey to be made whole physically has taken her to numerous states and visits with some seventeen doctors.  Houston is pursuing a third surgery in the hopes it will be the final step on her journey to full recovery.

I asked Houston to share an overview of her healing journey thus far.

Antwynette Houston at the University of Toledo Orthopaedic Center. Photo Courtesy: A. Houston

Antwynette Houston at the University of Toledo Orthopaedic Center. Photo Courtesy: A. Houston

“My first surgery was October 7th 2013, and I was told that my recovery would be anywhere from six months to a year before I would gain pretty good or close to normal use of my arm.  So, I expected that I was looking at a year ,at the most, before I could be able to go back to work.

Antwynette Houston said her injury required two initial surgeries. She is currently seeking help in funding a third surgery to restore use of her arm. Photo Courtesy: A. Houston

Antwynette Houston said her injury required two initial surgeries. She is currently seeking help in funding a third surgery to restore use of her arm. Photo Courtesy: A. Houston

I went into rehab almost immediately and we figured out really soon that I wasn’t ready for rehab; they took me back out, and I went back in for rehab probably about two months later.  And I never got any better.  I still always hurt.  I still had a lot of swelling and I still had a lot of pain and we couldn’t figure out why.

Around 8 months after surgery, I went back to the doctors telling them that something was wrong.  I had been saying that from the beginning.  I went to see them every six weeks and I kept telling them that something is wrong, and they were basically just telling me I needed to give it time.

But, at that eight month mark they x-rayed my shoulder.  He suspected that I had instability and one day x-rayed my shoulder and they found out it was popping in and out-of-place.  So, I did need the stability surgery.   We knew at that point that I wouldn’t be okay in a year because it was around the year mark that I found out I needed surgery again.

I didn’t have surgery again until May 5th, 2015, believe it or not.  It took me all that time because the first surgery had been done on a lien, and for the second surgery they wanted me to pay up front, because I hadn’t paid anything on the first surgery and the second surgery was going to be very expensive.

They wanted me to pay upfront and it took me several months.  We were looking at around $50,000 dollars and I didn’t know where I was going to get it from.  I found out in June that I needed surgery again.  It took me from probably August 2014 to nearly December 2014 before I actually got the money.   I went to the doctor November 11th and I was released from there after they threw me out of the practice with no explanation.

After that, I started my journey of searching for my own doctor out-of-town.   I didn’t have surgery again until May 5th, 2015.  Then my arm was completely immobilized in a sling for four months and while it was in the sling we thought I was okay, but soon as I came out of the sling, we realized that something else was wrong and it’s still going.

Right now, it’s August 2016 and I’m going through the process again of doing tests so they can now narrow it down and figure out what exactly needs to be done, right now, so I can have surgery again.”

Houston added that her injury was not your typical type of shoulder injury.  She has received surgery, nerve blocks and various other medical procedures from about seventeen doctors.  She stated,

Acromioclavicular joint Photo Courtesy Henry Vandyke Carter - Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body Bartleby.com: Gray's Anatomy, Plate 326, Public Domain, / Wikipedia

Acromioclavicular joint Photo Courtesy Henry Vandyke Carter – Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body Bartleby.com: Gray’s Anatomy, Plate 326, Public Domain, / Wikipedia

Axillary space.png

Quadrilateral Space. Photo Courtesy: By Mikael Häggström.When using this image in external works, it may be cited as follows:Häggström, Mikael. “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.008. ISSN 20018762. – Image:Gray810.png, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2952373 / Wikipedia

“Shoulder surgeons typically look for normal shoulder injuries and I had all of the normal shoulder injuries rolled into one.  But I also had the abnormal shoulder injury that they don’t look for, because most people don’t get hurt to this degree.

I had other regular shoulder injuries like Acromioclavicular (AC) separation which is the worst shoulder separation you can have.  I had AC separation, I had the instability, I had the rotator cuff tear, I had traumatic tears, I had nerve damage, I had brachial plexus damage.   I also had some weird injury they called abnormal shoulder injury Quadrilateral space syndrome and all these little things that are not normal sort of injuries.

The kind of shoulder injury that I have you normally see in repetitive sports and I never played a sport.

High impact sports that involve, for example, a baseball player winding his arm back and throwing a ball; someone who does that on a regular basis.  However, I got the same kind of injury that you would get in extreme sports because my arm was pulled back so far.”

I asked Houston was it challenging getting doctors to hear and understand her concerns surrounding the rarity and severity of her injury?  She said:

“It really has been frustrating because they were looking for those normal injuries and doctors just don’t seem to listen to patients very often.  They feel like when you think pain is coming from one side they tell you it’s coming from another place.  But, I’m the kind of person who knows my body and I can tell you where some of the injuries are, in particular those that are in rare spots.  I felt burning and pulling from those areas the whole time.  And I’ve been saying that the whole time, but because that’s not a normal injury, their first inclination is to look in normal places.

So, I’ve had a lot of difficulty because they want to fix everything else before they look in those places I’m saying the pain is actually coming from.  I had injuries in those other places, but I just wished somebody had listened and looked in these spots a longtime ago, I might have been better off.  It just became a long drawn out process to me because nobody would listen to me.   I felt very frustrated because they wouldn’t just go to those places.  They just will not do it.”

Houston said often times the doctor’s reactions made her feel like she wasn’t progressing forward and felt more like she was starting all over because they did not listen or hear her.  She further stated, “Every time I say I’m hurting in these spots their response is always “people don’t get hurt in that spot” that’s very rare.  They’ve only seen a few cases or less than a dozen cases of those kinds of injuries ever,  so they just assume that I don’t know what I’m talking about and that my injuries are originating somewhere else.  But they are exactly where I explained.  So, when they go in there they see that I was right.  Unfortunately, I’m the one who has to wait for that to happen.”

Recently Houston located a doctor on YouTube that she felt would be able to understand exactly what she was talking about.  She was also trying to see other doctors who came across as an authority on her particular injury. She expressed on Twitter and Facebook that she felt comfortable with this doctor and his team because of their knowledge base and that they would be able to assist her in moving forward.  She added,

Latissimus dorsi muscle. Photo Courtesy: sv:Användare:Chrizz, 27 maj 2005 / Wikipedia

Latissimus dorsi muscle. Photo Courtesy: sv:Användare:Chrizz, 27 maj 2005 / Wikipedia

“I did a lot of research on my own to find doctor Nabil Ebraheim, MD, Orthopaedic Surgeon at The University of Toledo Medical Center on YouTube.  I stumbled onto him looking for doctors who’ve written publications about the latissimus dorsi, and I did a lot of research because a lot of doctors don’t really know who to send me too because it’s rare to have pain in the spot I’m pointing to, so nobody knew where to send me.

I didn’t want to go to just anybody.  I wanted to go to somebody who had seen an injury in that area before so I wouldn’t be a guinea pig because it’s important for me to have surgery just one more time.

So, I looked him up and watched all of his videos.   He had several and he seemed to know a lot about all  the issues I’m having and the places I was hurting.   I reached out to his office, traveled to Toledo, and ended up seeing him.  Actually, I was scheduled to see somebody else, but they were stumped on what was going on with me.  Dr. Ebraheim came out of surgery to see me and  he’s been treating me, and he’s been thinking on a different level.  He is the first person to ever actually go into the spot that I’ve been pointing to for three years.

Gray818.png

Axillary Nerve. Photo Courtesy: By Henry Vandyke Carter – Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body (See “Book” section below)Bartleby.com: Gray’s Anatomy, Plate 818, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=541674

He’s doing nerve blocks in that area through a process of elimination.   He’s done all of that and  now I think we’re on the right track.   The people at Toledo University are just really nice and they’re listening to me.  Pretty soon we’re going to be able to figure out exactly what I need to do.

Right now I’m getting a series of nerve blocks to my axillary nerve and I get the last nerve block soon.  And, if it does not release and give me complete pain relief we’re going to the next step.  He also has me in water therapy to make my arm weightless and he’s tried some different things that nobody else has done so I’m happy with what we’re doing.

Dr. Joseph Atallah gave me my most recent nerve block.  He said, ” we had to find a more permanent solution to get me out of pain because they could eventually cause damage.  We’re going to try a trial procedure to once again rule out brachial neuritis and go from there.”  Dr. Atallah is trying to help me recover fully and that’s all I can ask for.  If for some reason I can’t get the help I need  in Toledo, I’ll keep searching until I find the right person to help me.

I refuse to see doctors with a closed mind to new ideas.  Even doctors take continuing education classes.  Everyone can learn something new.  I believe just because one doctor doesn’t know about something, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible!  Go to another doctor.  Once you’ve been told by several doctors that nothing can be done, make peace with that.

Until then, go the extra mile and seek healing for your body.  No one will fight for you harder than you will.  Get a second, third and even fourth opinion if that’s what it takes.  Remember, all doctors and lawyers are not created equal.  Some finished last in their class but they’re still practicing medicine or law.  Keep that in mind.”

Because of her professional background, Houston had some medical knowledge to help her understand her symptoms and the terminology to help her find the appropriate assistance.  I asked her how beneficial has this been during her journey to get healed.

“It has been very beneficial because I could point to the areas where I was hurting and when I posted online I actually used one of the anatomy statues used in nursing school to label, on the backside, the terms and locations of where everything was, and I took a picture of it so I could better explain where I was hurting.

Because most people don’t know medical terminology, I think people listen to you more when they realize okay she’s pointing out the specific areas.  I think it helps, otherwise it would just make it harder if I can’t say where it hurts.  I think it helped that I could point out where it hurt even though it didn’t get me where I wanted to go any quicker.  But maybe I just wasn’t supposed to get here until now.”

Houston’s journey to find the right medical help has caused tremendous and continual stress on her mentally, physically and financially.  In addition, family and close friends have tirelessly supported her along the way.  I asked her has coping with this particular fact been difficult.

“What keeps me going is the hope that I will be healed.  Because if we can just get to those exact problems I have issues with and be healed and someone to listen to me and go exactly where I’m asking them to go, we can make it happen.  It’s very doable; it just takes the right person to do it.

I cope by crying when I need too, break down when I need too, and then I get up the next day and I do it all over again.  But coping is really hard.  I do a lot of self-talking and I just tell myself it’s another day and I get to start over tomorrow.  I get by and excited just knowing that people are listening to me and I am getting some kind of relief from these blocks which tell us we’re in the right place.  And that’s what I need.”

Fortunately for Houston, support from key family members, friends and social media has been steadfast.  She said:

“My mother has been there for me from the beginning and has been a huge support for me.  I’ve had some friends, not very many, but  some key people I can consistently count on.  And the people online through much of this have kept me going.  I need the blessing and support that they give me on Facebook, Twitter and they reach out to me all the time with positive affirmations.

I can get on Twitter in the middle of the night and  say OMG, my arm is aching, I’m in so much pain and people come from everywhere and say “Oh I’m here for you, do you need to talk and it’s amazing.”  Social media has been huge for me.  I wasn’t on social media before this; now that I’m on it, I’ve had a great experience because I have a lot of people backing me.  It’s a family of people who I don’t even know and the kindness of strangers has been beautiful.

Houston’s three year anniversary of her injury recently passed August 3rd.  I asked her what she is hoping the future will bring her and her children beyond the healing. 

“I want to help people who are in conditions like me.  One of my biggest struggles through this whole thing was, I needed so many things that I didn’t know how to get and didn’t know where to start.  Part of that was I was dealing with too many things at once and I’ve never dealt with anything like this situation before, so there were so many things I had to find out on my own, the same way I had to find these doctors.  It’s hard.

I don’t even think people can imagine how hard it is to find your own doctor. How hard it is to even be seen by them.  Because, when you’re not referred by another doctor people don’t understand why you’re coming from one city to the next to have surgery; and, when they find out about your injury and who caused it sometimes they don’t want to see you because they don’t want to get in it.

There was just a lot of things that I needed, a lot of resources that just made everything hard such as; finding another lawyer.   I would call people out-of-town trying to get a sit down with a lawyer and they want you to discuss your whole case in two minutes over the phone or you’re talking to a paralegal and they decide in a few minutes if your case is worthy of the attorney taking your case.

If you can’t make it sound exciting in less than two minutes then you’re not going to be seen.  Mostly because you can’t sit down in front of them and have a regular conversation…  it’s not the same.  I tried to get in touch with the media and they want you to sum up your story on the telephone or in the hallway in a minute or two.  And again, if it’s not exciting they won’t even walk into the hallway to see you.

I needed to see doctors, psychiatrists, get financial services; I needed money to keep a roof over our heads.  There were just so many things.  I needed spiritual support.  I needed support in so many ways and I just didn’t know how to find it.  I had to find everything on my own and I was already overwhelmed.  When I first started looking for an attorney in my hometown, I talked with at least four different firms.

They wouldn’t even sit down with me and basically brushed me off or didn’t have the time to talk to me.   And if I felt like I had a case,  there was no assistance and I couldn’t find anyone else to help me. Ultimately, I was able to find Anthony Reeves a disability attorney in Florida.  He actually showed concern and spent an hour with me on the phone before taking me on as a client.

I felt, in my state of being overwhelmed, that I needed somebody to help me through the process and there was no one.  So, I want to be able to provide a service that just takes the weight off of people so they don’t have to work so hard.  Help put resources at their fingertips on where to go because it’s so difficult to figure out where to go when you have so many things to do.”

Houston says the experience has taught her a lot about herself.

“This experience has taught me that I’m way stronger than I thought I was; also it taught me that I was different even though I didn’t know why or how I was different.  But now I really know I am different from most people.  I just am and evidently I can do more than most people can and endure more than most people can when it comes to this type of situation even though, again, I don’t know why.

As a mother,  I have always hidden my emotions from my kids.   I haven’t been able to hide my emotions and this situation has taught me that it’s okay to not hide my emotions in front of my kids and still be a mom.  I’m not a super hero, I’m just a person.  So,  I just let my kids see me hurting even though I didn’t want too.  It’s been hard, but that’s what had to happen because I had to be normal somewhere and it had to be at home.

I still try to hide a lot of emotions from my son because he’s so young.  But he knows me even when I try to hide it from him that I’m struggling.  I had to learn not to be so strong in front of my kids and let them see the whole person.”

Houston adds she’s a regular woman who happens to be seeking justice and a fair hearing.

“I’m a regular woman and what happened to me could have happened to anybody.  See me as a regular person, not as a criminal, not as a trouble maker, but just as a regular woman with a regular life-like everybody else.  And know that my circumstance could happen to anybody, it just so happened to happen to me.  Don’t look at me like I did something to bring it on to me.

But, that it just happened and I just happened to be the one to be picked.  I just want people to know that you can just be a regular person to stand up without being a super hero and you can get through it.  I’m just a mother, a woman and a regular person who happens to be dealing with something horrific but I’m going to get through it.

I appreciate everybody that has helped and continue to help me along my journey.  But for me, the people on the internet who encourage me to keep fighting, I love with all my heart.  I don’t even know most of them, but I love them like I know them, because some of them have been with me the whole journey.  And I’ve had days I couldn’t make it without their encouragement.  I need them, I would be so sad if I lost them… that’s how important they are to me.

And to the doctors who are trying to help me, I love them too.  I also appreciate the doctors that have helped me because different doctors have been bridges to other doctors.  They’re all important and they all play a big part and I feel like the people helping me were put in my path by GOD for a reason and I’m just happy that they’re there.”

At last report Houston was seeking the assistance of Dr. Sherry-Ann Brown at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minneapolis because of her expertise with Quadrilateral Space Syndrome.  Houston and her social media family have reached out to Dr. Brown @drbrowncares, @MayoClinic and @mayoclinicspor.

In addition, Houston still needs the financial support and encouragement of family, friends and others as she strives to get donations for a third surgery.

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