When Theresa Eaton was only 5 years old, a family friend who was an RN, Aunt Melissa, knew something was wrong when she saw how Theresa stood and walked. Her mother heeded the advice and took Theresa to USF to get evaluated. It wasn’t much later when she was soon diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, juvenile arthritis (JA) is not a specific disease, but an umbrella term used “to describe the inflammatory and rheumatic diseases that develop in children under the age of 16” and “affects nearly 300,000 kids and teens in the United States.” Most kinds of JA are autoimmune diseases in which the immune system gets confused and releases inflammatory chemicals to fight healthy cells and tissues. The exact cause of JA is not entirely clear, but researchers believe certain genes, triggered by a virus, bacteria, or other external factors, might be responsible. No evidence shows that foods, toxins, allergies, or lack of vitamins cause the disease.
In addition to being diagnosed with JA, Theresa was also diagnosed with Turner Syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic, Turner Syndrome is “a condition that affects only females, results when one of the X chromosomes (sex chromosomes) is missing or partially missing. Turner syndrome can cause a variety of medical and developmental problems, including short height, failure of the ovaries to develop and heart defects.”
To simply be born was a true medical miracle for Theresa. Babies who have Turner Syndrome have a high rate of spontaneous fetal loss in utero, with about 80% of fetuses dying as early as 10 weeks gestation. Some research reports a 99% mortality rate in the first trimester alone.
Despite her conditions, Theresa’s parents did not coddle her. They chose to treat her like any normal child in order to teach Theresa independence and to not have her depend on other people to take care of her. Over time, they were able to differentiate the difference when Theresa was truly in pain or when she was being lazy.
Theresa Eaton was born and raised by both her mother and father in Brooksville. Theresa is the only known member in her family to have the chronic condition. Though her grandmother who was diagnosed with polio has become her inspiration. “She has learned to adapt – to learn how to live with it,” Theresa said.
Theresa had successfully graduated from high school and had promised her grandfather that she would go to college. After a break from high school Theresa eventually enrolled at the University of South Florida to pursue her bachelor’s degree. In the spring of 2019, Theresa’s mother, who affectionately called Theresa “Ladybug,” passed away during her last semester. With much perseverance, Theresa managed to graduate successfully from the program without delay.
Now at 44 years old, Theresa shares her joys and successes with her husband, his two children, and two grandchildren. She currently works for Bravera Health, as she has for the last 20 years, and it is the same hospital her life began at.
Theresa initially started her career as a unit secretary, but is now as a Core Measure Abstractor, where she utilizes data collection to improve patient care. She continues to deal with the complications of her health conditions, such as limited range of motion in her knees, that resulted in double knee replacements. She also deals with aches and pains in her shoulders and joints, chronic fatigue, and a type of eye inflammation known as uveitis.
Those that are close to Theresa admire her strength and perseverance. Although Theresa has many reasons to complain, she lives her best life every day. Considering the odds of her survival, Theresa does not take this life for granted. She spends every day trying to help improve the health of many patients through her work.
Theresa credits her journey to her family and her support groups. Theresa has been actively involved with the Arthritis Foundation, which she calls “my village” over the years. She has helped raise support and awareness through car washes, BBQ’s, raffles, and annual walks.
This year, Theresa is encouraging Hernando County residents to participate in the “Chasing Butterflies Walk for Turner Syndrome.” The event will take place on Saturday, October 1st at 10:00 am at Tom Varn Park. Activities will include various vendors, raffles, a silent auction, bounce houses, and much more. Registration for the event will be at 9:00 am.