Phyllis is a 55-year old, happily married mother from North Carolina, USA. Living with psoriasis since she was seven years old, Phyllis developed coronary artery disease in her late 40s and suffered several heart attacks. Fortunately, Phyllis got another chance at life and reached out to us to share her emotional story and help raise awareness about the serious health risks associated with psoriasis.
Growing up with psoriasis
When I was seven years old, I had chickenpox. A week later, I noticed some spots on my ankle. My mother didn’t know what it was, so we went to the doctor and I was given some shots. The symptoms didn’t go away; in fact, they got worse. Finally, we were referred to a dermatologist in Raleigh who diagnosed psoriasis right away. That’s when it became quite severe –I had it in my scalp, all the way down to my feet. My dad said there wasn’t a place on my body that didn’t have flare-ups.
Being seven years old and going to school with psoriasis was hard, and very embarrassing. I remember wearing shorts and everyone asking me what it was. I also met some people who were afraid that I was contagious.
Luckily, my mom as really good at taking care of me, and she did exactly what the dermatologist recommended with creams, baths and making sure I got enough sun. Since we lived on a farm, Mom would often tell me to go out where the grass was growing high and take off my clothes, so I could heal the areas that weren’t usually exposed to the sun.
I was a healthy kid, active at school, eating well and getting lots of exercise. But I was always a nervous kind of child. I think staying active helped keep my psoriasis under control – it would go into remission and then come back again. When I got pregnant, the hormones made my psoriasis symptoms disappear, but as soon as I stopped breastfeeding, the symptoms returned. I had severe flare-ups and I was scratching a lot. That’s the worst thing you can do, as it starts bleeding and leaves an open wound on your skin.
My first heart attack
At 2:00 in the morning on July 3, 2011, I woke up and told my husband that I needed to go to the hospital. I fell unconscious in the car, but my husband was a paramedic and did chest compressions on the way to the hospital. I was 48 years old, and that was my first heart attack.
I couldn’t understand why this had happened to me. I’d always been healthy and active, and there was no history of heart disease in my family. I felt really desperate and started doing some research. That’s when we discovered that people with psoriasis have a risk of heart disease, stroke and depression. I had no idea that psoriasis could be linked to heart attacks.
I had thirty heart caths in two years, because my body kept producing scar tissue that was blocking over 90% of the artery. It was like my body was killing itself and nobody knew what to do. In the end, I had two other heart attacks due to the blockages from my scar tissue. Finally, everything calmed down.
Tips for others with psoriasis
I think it’s important to educate people about psoriasis. When people ask you about it, just be upfront and explain what psoriasis is. Tell them it’s not contagious, and that there’s simply no cure for it. Then, when they meet someone else with the same condition, they’ll be more understanding.
I met my husband when I was 18. He didn’t care about my psoriasis – he just said “I love you for who you are”. Having psoriasis does affect your self-esteem, but I have an outgoing personality and I love people. That may have helped me get through it.
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