By Alyce Collins
THIS STUNNING woman became completely paralysed and couldn’t even move her TONGUE before doctors later realised her CONTRACEPTIVE PILL was causing her body to shut down.
Account executive, Katrina Parra (26) from Venezuela, began struggling with abdominal pain, anxiety and vomiting constantly from the start of 2012 but doctors couldn’t diagnose what the problem was.
By December 2012, Katrina’s symptoms became worse as she constantly felt cold, her body was weak and frail, and she was placed in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) over the holidays. However, doctors couldn’t diagnose the illness, even drawing the conclusion that Katrina had a psychological problem and she needed to see a therapist.
Without a diagnosis, Katrina continued to decline and became completely paralysed. For over a week Katrina lay in ICU, awake but unable to move or communicate.
After eight months of painful symptoms and hospitalisation, doctors finally diagnosed Katrina with Acute Intermittent Porphyria, a genetic disorder which affects the production of haemoglobin in the body. The genetic deformity can be unknown until symptoms are triggered by a certain factor. In Katrina’s case, it’s thought that the factor which led to her condition spiralling was her birth control pill, Yaz.
Now, after having treatment for her condition and stopping her birth control, Katrina has made a strong recovery and is now a fitness instructor.
“In 2012 I started to vomit a lot and I felt abdominal pain, anxiety and I felt like I needed to bathe in hot water for hours as if I’d been poisoned,” said Katrina.
“I went to the clinic and the doctors did tests but the tests didn’t show anything was wrong.
“I was still taking my birth control and four months later, on December 24, 2012 I felt awful again. I had chills, a high temperature and no strength in my body.
“I went to a clinic again where they diagnosed me with septicaemia and they put me in ICU for a week, until the new year. It was awful, but the nurses took good care of me.
“They put me in a room and nobody was allowed to visit me unless they were completely covered so I was protected from germs.
“Doctors did a lot of tests, but my symptoms only got worse. I was vomiting, hallucinating, I had abdominal pain, leg pain and I was just really going crazy.
“Days passed, and I didn’t get a diagnosis. My mum was really stressed about my condition, but I had such a huge support from all of my family.
“Doctors began giving me medication which they didn’t realise they couldn’t give me because the drug had a negative effect on porphyria. I was intoxicated and feeling worse every day.
“I just wanted to die and be finished with the whole nightmare.
“One day, my doctor told my mum he thought it was a psychological problem and I should be seen by a psychiatrist. She couldn’t believe it and she got so mad.
“Conferences were held in the clinic, but no doctors could think of a single solution or diagnosis.
“I was vomiting a lot but the only thing I continued taking was my birth control. Birth control can be known to trigger porphyria, and all of my symptoms began when I started taking the pill.
“No matter how ill I felt, I still didn’t stop taking the pill.
“Because of the difficulty in receiving a diagnosis, I started to become paralysed and it got so bad that I couldn’t even move my tongue. They put me back in Intensive Care where I spent days completely awake but not able to move any part of my body.
“I couldn’t speak or move, but my body was in a lot of pain and I just wanted to die.”
After first being taken into hospital, it was another two months before Katrina could leave the hospital.
Eight months after her spending over a week in a full body paralysis, Katrina’s doctors finally discovered that her condition was Acute Intermittent Porphyria and they were able to successfully treat her relentless symptoms.
Acute Intermittent Porphyria is a genetic disorder caused by a mutation in the body’s production of haem which can be brought on by drugs, medication, excess alcohol, infections or other factors.
There is no cure for porphyria, but it can be treated by stopping the medication causing the attacks and by injecting the body with haem to compensate for the body’s lack of it.
“I needed a lot of medical attention because my body was totally paralysed, and I was in a lot of pain,” said Katrina.
“The pain was so bad that the only thing that could relieve me was morphine. Doctors even say that the abdominal pain is very similar to giving birth.
“When they finally diagnosed me, I felt so relieved. We would finally be able to treat it and I’d understand how to live with the condition.
“Each month for two years, nurses came to my house and they put the porphyria treatment straight into my vein as I was having porphyria attacks every month.
“I also had physiotherapy three times a day to regain my strength and ability to move. While I was paralysed, I lost my voice and so required a vocal therapist.
“My physiotherapists really gave me the best support and I owe them a lot. I wanted to feel good again and to have my life back.
“The recovery was slow though. It took me two months just to be able to move one finger again. By two months I could finally make the first sound with my voice.
“I was trapped in a bed for five months and I remember when my physiotherapist stood me up for the first time, I started to cry because I couldn’t stand up by myself.”
Since beginning her recovery journey, Katrina has had a positive attitude for the last five years as she battled to regain her life. Katrina made her first steps nine months after her diagnosis, and it took over two years to make a full recovery.
After recovering from being bed-ridden for five months and unable to move her tongue, Katrina has now achieved her goal of becoming a fitness instructor.
Katrina also spoke about how she hopes to educate more people on the condition which nearly took her life, and to help those who are dealing with it themselves.
“I haven’t had a porphyria attack for three years now. I take good care of myself now – I can’t have any birth control obviously, I don’t drink or smoke,” said Katrina.
“To this day, my toes are still a little numb and they don’t move as they used to. It doesn’t bother me though because I can walk normally.
“I have just achieved my goal of becoming a Fitcombat teacher, but my biggest goal is to create a porphyria foundation to help others. People die from porphyria because of the difficulty in diagnosing it.
“I don’t wish that on anybody, it’s awful. Just thinking about it gives me the chills. I really didn’t care if I died, I just wanted the pain to go.
“Don’t give up, you can have a totally normal life afterwards. Take care of yourself and stay positive. We need to spread the word because there’s not enough information about this condition.”
You can follow Katrina’s account on Instagram @somosporfiria where she shares her own progress as well as the stories of other people suffering with porphyria.