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Patient Story: Muriel and Courtney

This was somebody who was able to run up and down a basketball court and, within a relatively short period of time, began struggling to walk.

For most of her 27 years Courtney enjoyed being active, especially playing varsity basketball. When she was away at college in Florida, her mother Muriel worried when she complained of the pain she was experiencing in her neck, spine, and ankles.

Muriel said, “We were dealing with it long distance, once she started complaining I was pretty alarmed because she never complained about anything. We weren’t sure whether the difficulties she was having were related or if they were two different things.”

It was time for Courtney to come back home to Boston…and to find out what was causing her discomfort.

Referral to Brigham and Women’s

In 2007, Courtney came to Brigham and Women’s. Through a series of evaluations, it was soon determined that Courtney’s neck and spine pain was caused by a rare malformation called Arnold-Chiari.

“She was diagnosed with Arnold-Chiari which involves abnormalities where the brain and spinal cord meet,” Muriel said. “It was rare that she had not been diagnosed until then…often it is seen at birth.”

The doctors told Courtney that one wrong move, a hit, or a fall, could have caused a life-threatening injury to her spinal cord – a frightening realization for both she and Muriel. “Courtney is a real trooper; she sees the glass half full and lives her life accordingly. For me it was difficult,” said Muriel.

Courtney underwent a complex six-hour surgery - performed by both a neurosurgeon and an orthopaedic surgeon. Throughout her recovery, and afterwards, she continued to experience pain in her ankle and in the middle of her foot. While she thought it was probably the result of an old basketball injury, Courtney decided to no longer take anything for granted and decided to have it checked out.

An additional diagnosis

Courtney’s surgeons referred her to a rheumatologist for evaluation and, shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

Muriel said, “The doctors really worked in consort in terms of updating and informing each other and that was important for me. They were sharing conversations with me that they had with each other about Courtney’s condition.”

Once the diagnosis was made, treatment moved very quickly for Courtney.

“When she began the medications I immediately saw a difference in the way that she walked, in her attitude, and the way that she felt. I knew we were on the right track,” said Muriel.

Back to basketball

In the past year, Courtney has been undergoing medical therapy for her rheumatoid arthritis and has been able to resume work and the activities she enjoys.

“She exercises, we take walks and she even jogs from time to time,” Muriel said. “She’s continuing to progress and feel the effects of the medications – she’s doing really well.”

And while she can no longer run the way she once could, Courtney is back at the basketball court enjoying the sport she loves. “She’s found another way to channel her love for basketball and is working with young girls in the community by coaching them,” said Muriel.

“I was impressed with the amount of time the doctors took to discuss her condition and answer our questions. I never felt rushed or hurried or that there was a question I couldn’t ask,” Muriel said. “I knew that the team of doctors had been down this path before and understood what we as a family were going through.”

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Patient Story Video: Muriel and Courtney

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