April 2024 Zebra Spotlight: Theresa Navalta

Ashley DavisZebra Spotlight

My name is Theresa Navalta, and I am honored to be chosen to share my story. I don’t usually talk about my illnesses, but I do know that when my story began, I had never felt so alone in a fight that I didn’t fully understand. If I can make at least one person not feel alone, I will be happy that I shared my story.

After the birth of my first daughter, Chloe, I began having chronic labor type pains that seemed as though someone was using a hot branding pitchfork to swirl my insides like spaghetti and pull them out. Being 21, doctors treated me as though I was merely a kid trying to get my hands on pain medication, but in reality, I just wanted help. I couldn’t function as a mother. I couldn’t even pick up a spoon without the pain reminding me that I did not want to eat.

I lost 40lbs that first month. After what seemed like an eternity, I was finally given a colonoscopy and was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. My symptoms were not typical of the “average” person with Crohn’s since I was experiencing 99% debilitating pain instead of frequent trips to the bathroom. Shortly after my Crohn’s diagnosis I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) after losing 100% of my sight in my right eye.

In 2011, I gave birth to my youngest daughter, Haevyn (Haven). During the pregnancy I had experienced what the doctor’s thought were dislocated ribs. After her birth and experiencing a continuation of rib, hip, and back pain, I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. Ankylosing Spondylitis is where your bones become brittle and your spine fuses together.

My husband and I decided that since I come from a pretty healthy family but was just diagnosed with three autoimmune diseases by the age of 29, that I should make a trip to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Traveling to the Mayo Clinic ended up being the best decision of my (medical) life and where all of my concerns and questions were answered. The neurologist had explained to me that the Mayo Clinic had basically written the book on MS and was able to tell me that I actually did not have it. Instead, I was tested for the mutated gene, HLA-B27 which came back positive. Being positive for this gene mutation answered why I had multiple autoimmune diseases, and also officially ruled out MS. I was told that the brain lesions I had were caused by inflammation.

After all of those years of pain, concern, and the all-important question, why me, I finally had my answer.

The culprit was one mutated gene.

5 Invisible Symptoms

  1. Chronic abdominal pain.
  2. Spine pain and spasming as if my spine is in a vice 24/7.
  3. Hip pain.
  4. Constant fatigue.
  5. Due to the damaged spots on my brain, I experience little control of:
    a.) my emotions.
    b.) thinking of and expressing words.
    c.) motivation.

4 Things That Help Me Manage Pain

  1. Teaching myself to not get stressed out (with two daughters, this has been the toughest one!)
  2. Sleeping on the couch and using the back of the couch for leverage to pull myself up, and/or over.
  3. Humira, Tremidol, & Biofreeze.
  4. Keeping myself busy with activities and sports such as volunteering for the Down Syndrome Society of Wichita, the Meaningful Life and Miracle League, and of course watching my LIONS, TIGERS & RED WINGS…when Kansas will allow me to do so 🙂

3 Ways My Life Has Changed

  1. I cannot have any more children due to Crohn’s Disease leading to my previous labor complications. I also would need a c-section but am unable to have one due to my spine continuously fusing and shifting in placement, which would make an epidural impossible. This has probably been my #1 heartbreak.
  2. Not being able to get up and go without fear of an episode.
  3. Trying to live a normal daily life always results in pain and discomfort.

2 People Who Inspire Me

  1. My friends and family. Though they will never fully understand what I go through daily, nor will I ask or expect them to, they have been there for me, by my side, 100% since day one.
  2. My students. I teach children in a Functionally Applied Academic (FAA) classroom. Even though my students are faced with challenges every day of their lives, they never complain. They push hard for success and never let their disadvantages they were born with define them. In my eyes, they are the real MVPs and I have learned SO much from them.

1 Thing You Want People to Know

I am a 41-year-old woman who looks 100% healthy on the outside (minus some love handles) with nothing but struggles on the inside. HOWEVER, I will NEVER allow my illnesses to define me. How we treat others, how we love, and how we push ourselves to succeed should be the only things that define us. This too shall pass…don’t give up on yourself!