It takes 26 miles and 385 yards to complete a marathon. But for someone who finished college in 3 1/2 years while contending with a rare brain disease and surgery thrown into the mix, 26 miles may seem like nothing.
Shannon Smith, an Indiana Area High School graduate, will run in the 120th Boston Marathon this spring with the Credit Union Kids @ Heart Team, which fundraises for research and treatment of several brain diseases, including Moyamoya, which Smith was diagnosed with in 2012 while she was attending Geneva College in Beaver Falls, where she was on the cross country team.
As she was settling back into her dorm room Nov. 26 of that year, just after Thanksgiving break, Smith abruptly lost peripheral vision in her right eye.
At first I thought it was just my contact, she said.
In about five minutes, her vision came back but was followed by a painful headache. She eventually thought to herself, This doesn't happen to a normal 19-year-old. You don't just lose peripheral vision out of the blue.
After about an hour, Smith called her parents. A trip to the local MedExpress led them to Beaver Valley Hospital for an MRI, which came back with abnormal results, so the doctor scheduled a meeting for Smith with a neurosurgeon for 8:30 a.m. the following morning in Pittsburgh. With the last-minute appointment, her family could only get a hotel room with one king-size bed, so Shannon slept between her parents.
Her father, JB Smith, said he couldn't sleep that night not knowing what was wrong.
All I was doing was watching her chest rise, he said.
The next morning, the neurosurgeon told Shannon she had panicked and what she had experienced was just a migraine. She was told to take Topamax three times a day for three years.
Shannon recalled thinking, That's kind of drastic for being my first so-called migraine.
Just to be safe, the neurosurgeon scheduled an MRA (magnetic resonance angiogram) for the following week, but when those results also came back abnormal, a visit with a second neurosurgeon led to the initial discussion that she may have Moyamoya disease, a rare disorder caused by blocked arteries at the base of the brain.Smith's family researched the disease and found that Boston Children's Hospital was the best place for treatment after her father spoke with one of the surgeons. They traveled to Boston and she was officially diagnosed with Moyamoya on Dec. 17, 2012, at Boston Children's Hospital. Surgery was scheduled for Dec. 26, exactly a month after Smith briefly lost peripheral vision in her right eye. The operation, as her doctor put it, would rework the plumbing in her brain.
The Moyamoya is like a blockage, she explained, and (the doctor) reworks the pipes to go around the blockage.
The procedure, known as pial synangiosis, was developed by Boston Children's neurosurgeon-in-chief, R. Michael Scott. According to the Children Hospital's website, he and colleague Dr. Edward Smith, who was Smith's doctor, have treated more than 400 children with Moyamoya using this operation.
On the day of her surgery, Smith's dad said she marched in the hospital like it was nothing, although the atmosphere was tense while they waited for her to be taken into the operating room.
Her surgery went well, and she was released from the hospital four days later. Between being shuffled around before her official diagnosis and taking on surgery with less than a month to fully absorb all of the information thrown at her, Smith said relied heavily on her faith.
Throughout this experience my faith was strengthened because I didn't know what was going on, she said. I just thought, God, I'm leaving this up to you.'
Smith started school again in the spring without missing any time, but she had to take eight months off from running cross country, an activity she had participated in since middle school. Eventually she was cleared to train for the sport again, and Smith even managed to graduate last December, a semester earlier than scheduled. She has a degree in speech language pathology and is now in Orlando, Fla., participating in the Disney College Program.
Smith still has a yearly appointment and MRI at Boston Children's Hospital to make sure everything looks OK. She has to take one baby aspirin and drink three to four liters of water every day.
Last summer, just after her yearly checkup in Boston, Smith got a phone call from a woman who worked with the Credit Union Kids @ Heart Team for the Boston Marathon. She explained that Smith's doctor recommended she be on their team because he knew she was a runner. Shannon happily accepted the offer.
The Credit Union Kids @ Heart Team is designed so each patient represented on the team has a partner who runs for them in the marathon. Smith will be the first patient who is also a runner, but will still have a partner running with her every step of the way.
I get to raise awareness and research money for this disease that I have, and I get to do it through one of my favorite activities, which is running, Smith wrote on a fundraising page she created for the marathon online.
Her goal is to raise $12,500, and she is currently at $4,305. Her page can be found at http://bit.ly/20kuhrv.
Smith will run in the marathon on April 18, and her grateful family will be there to proudly cheer her on.
PHOTO: Shannon Smith had to take a break from running cross country at Geneva College. (Submitted photo)