‘The vaccine created the perfect storm.’: Mom shares Hashimoto’s diagnosis, healing journey

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Beginning Symptoms

“I didn’t realize it at the time, but my journey to find healing began in October 2006. I had been ill for a few days with flu like symptoms, fever, and a mysterious rash that covered my body like a sunburn. I didn’t think too much of it at first and just assumed I had picked up a virus from one of my children, who at the time were 6 years, 2 years, and 8 months old. But when I wasn’t showing signs of getting better, my husband at the time urged me to go to his family’s doctor. So, I made the appointment and went.

While at the appointment, the doctor diagnosed me with a viral infection (meaning he didn’t know what it was) and strongly urged I get a flu vaccine to speed up recovery and protect myself from future illness, since I had little ones. I was very hesitant to get the vaccine, as I had never had one before and had always heard you shouldn’t get one while you were sick. But, reluctantly, I gave in due to both the doctor and my husband insisting I do it.

Three days later, I woke up to severe total body aches and pains and partial upper body paralysis. I couldn’t lift my arms higher than my elbows. It was like my shoulders were frozen and I couldn’t move them. I spent the next six months suffering from this before finding a doctor who would work with me to figure out what was going on. The doctor who had administered the vaccine would not see me after the incident and refused to believe my condition was an adverse reaction to the flu vaccine.

My life was a living hell during those six months. Even though the paralysis had eventually started to correct itself, there was no escaping the pain that seared throughout my body every day. So many nights I would sit alone in the dark, rocking my infant at the time, just crying because I was scared I had something terminal and wouldn’t be around to see my children grow up.

Finding A Diagnosis

It wasn’t until the spring of 2007 that I stumbled upon the doctor who would play an important role in my diagnosis, treatments, and later my journey to find healing. I vividly remember the day I met her. It was a gorgeous sunny afternoon, and I was standing along the sidelines of the little league baseball field with my two youngest in a stroller, while my 6-year-old was at practice. As I was standing there watching the kids run around bases with no direction or clue, this very distinguished and attractive woman around my age, in a white doctor’s coat, walked up and stood beside me.

She too, was the mother of three little boys all around the same ages as mine. It wasn’t the first time I had seen her at practice in her doctor coat, but it was the first time I finally got the courage to talk to her. Half joking, half serious I asked her, ‘So…what kind of doctor are you?’ She replied, ‘I am a rheumatologist.’ In that moment, I knew our paths had crossed for a reason, so I told her, ‘That’s awesome! I need to schedule an appointment with you!’ We both laughed, and then I filled her in briefly on what the last six months had been like. She just shook her head in disbelief, but told me to call her office and she would see me within the week.

chronically ill mother with three sons
Courtesy of Kristin Cortez

I loved everything about this doctor from my very first appointment with her. She was so easy to talk to and so very thorough. The next six months were spent with her testing for everything imaginable to determine what had happened after that flu shot. Finally, in the latter part of 2007, she diagnosed me with Hashimoto’s Hypothyroidism and Rheumatoid Arthritis. All tests led to the vaccine creating the perfect storm, when coupled with the viral infection, to propel my body into a full fledge autoimmune response literally overnight.

I was devastated. At 31-years-old, I felt like I had been given a life sentence. Eventually, my diagnoses took their toll on the relationships around me. I began losing friendships, as I no longer had the energy to nurture these relationships. I mean, at times, I barely had the energy to take care of my three little boys. ‘Play through the pain,’ was a common phrase heard in our house, usually coming from my boys. ‘Oh Mom, just play through the pain,’ when they wanted me to be present in their activities. I learned to do that for the most part. It’s par for the course when living with a chronic illness. You learn to mask the pain and suffering.

mom on hike with her three sons
Courtesy of Kristin Cortez

Divorce & Remarriage

In 2012, life took another major turn I wasn’t really prepared for or expecting. The boys’ father and I divorced. Being a single mom with an autoimmune diagnosis to three very active little boys had a tremendous toll on me physically, mentally, and spiritually. I spent a lot of time feeling like I wasn’t enough, and I had tremendous guilt about going back into the workforce after having spent many years at home with them. Their lives had been turned upside down by the divorce between their father and me. And I was struggling to figure out who I was after 13 years of marriage, motherhood, and suffering with chronic autoimmune flare-ups.

All I can say is my faith got me through one of the lowest and most difficult times in my life. I found so much peace in putting my trust in God. I had unwavering faith he had a plan for my kids and I. I trusted in his ability to provide for us when things seemed bleak. ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you, and to not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ Jeremiah 29:11 became my daily mantra. I found myself repeating this throughout my day most days.

And in God’s perfect timing, not long after my divorce, I met the most loving man, who I now call my husband. Our paths were meant to cross. We were both fresh out of divorces, scared to commit again to another person, but there was no denying that, together, we were good for each other. We balanced each other out. He was strong when I was weak. He made me laugh, was adventurous, and for the first time in a long time, I felt like a woman and not just like somebody’s momma. He loved me and treated me like a queen. And above all, he did one of the bravest things any man could do, and that was take on a woman with three young kids when he was already at the parenthood finish line. In December 2018, we were married in a small chapel in Gatlinburg, TN, surrounded by only our children and our one and only grand-baby at the time.

Husband and wife kissing at the alter
Courtesy of Kristin Cortez
Husband and wife standing at their wedding with kids from previous marriages
Courtesy of Kristin Cortez

Searching For Healing

Unfortunately, our love story is not all roses and rainbows. Blending families comes with many challenges. In the midst of those trying times, my health began to deteriorate. My autoimmune flares were becoming more frequent and more severe. I was extremely fatigued and in pain most days. I struggled with gaining weight, no matter how healthy I ate or how much I exercised. And my blood work was showing labs that were off the charts. Finally, in 2017, my health hit rock bottom following the death of my mother after her 10-year battle with cancer. I struggled emotionally after her passing with feelings of guilt that I should have been there more for her. In the months following her passing, I don’t think I ever got to fully grieve her loss because I was immediately consumed with taking care of the affairs of her estate.

My doctor, of what now was going on 11 years as her patient, could see how frustrated I was with my health and my concerning lab results, so she suggested I try an endocrinologist. I did. I set up an appointment with a new endocrinologist at one of our local hospitals. That appointment was a pivotal moment in my life. I walked into the appointment hopeful I would be finding the answers I had been searching for, but instead I walked away from that appointment feeling hopeless.

The doctor said he didn’t believe in a Hashimoto’s diagnosis and didn’t even test for it and that it was all in my head. I walked out of his office with tears streaming down my face. I sat in my car feeling betrayed and angry. I knew deep down I wasn’t crazy and this was not the life I was meant to live. My kids and my husband deserved better than this. I deserved better than this. I drove home determined to get my health and my life back. That afternoon I set out on a mission to find healing of the diagnoses that, for years, had taken control of every aspect of my life.

woman typing on a laptop
Courtesy of Kristin Cortez

Together, my husband and I researched for answers. He found books and articles for me to read. And when I decided to completely change my diet to begin to heal from the inside out, he followed the same protocol. We were in this together. Less than five months into my new healthy lifestyle, I could see remarkable healing taking place like I had never experienced before. My labs were coming down, my symptoms were beginning to calm down, and for the first time in years, I was no longer struggling to lose weight. I was ecstatic about the progress and began sharing my successes with others. It was in the beginning of 2018 that my husband and I realized just how many people were like myself, looking for answers to get their health back.

Helping Others

I left Corporate America in 2018, as a CPA, with the encouragement and support of my husband, to become a health and wellness coach specializing in working with individuals who suffer from thyroid disease. With him by my side, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to pursue my purpose and my passion to help others, especially women, who are struggling with their Hashimoto’s diagnosis. The road to building a business from the ground up has definitely had its fair share of ups and downs and setbacks along the way; the biggest obstacle being the world shutting down for the last two years during the pandemic. Building a business is not for the faint of heart, and has put a hefty strain on our marriage at times as my husband has been the sole provider for our family. But his faith and belief in me has kept me going.

husband and wife kissing at a bar
Courtesy of Kristin Cortez

During this whole journey, I’ve trusted in God’s plan for us and for the business. He’s always shown me he has had a hand in this, and all things happen according to his timing. Over the last four years, I’ve created the website Living Well Essentially, developed from scratch my own online thyroid program: Healing, Happy, and Healthy with Hashimoto’s, and self-published The Quick Guide to Healing, Happy, and Healthy with Hashimoto’s. My own healing journey has taught me healing is not a one-size-fits-all. Learning so much about this diagnosis and myself is what drives me to educate and help others to learn how to create their own healing through nutrition, fitness, and mindset.

Sadly, my story is not unique. There are approximately 14 million people diagnosed with Hashimoto’s and 75% of them are women. My mission is to reach those women and let them know they don’t have to suffer alone like I did for so many years. I want them to know that healing of the symptoms and putting this invisible disease in remission is possible. I want women, like me, to know they can get their life back and get control of their diagnosis even after years of feeling like their bodies are failing them. I want them to experience the beauty of healing body, mind, and soul.”

husband and wife kissing while on a hike
Courtesy of Kristin Cortez
chronically ill woman smiling at camera
Courtesy of Kristin Cortez

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kristin Cortez from Madisonville, Louisiana. You can follow her journey on Facebook and her website, or buy her book. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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‘One boy said, ‘Why is she even in here? She’s f—king crippled!’ I ignored it, but it would get worse. My mom and I got into a huge argument. She stopped, and looked at me in shock.’

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