By CODI FARMER, Vandegrift Voice
One day Kiersten Dyke was a healthy 16-year-old, and then suddenly she was experiencing many unexplainable symptoms — blurry vision, ringing in the ears, extreme sensitivity to sound and light, brain fog, leg weakness causing difficulty walking at times, stomach pain, dizziness and fatigue.
“When I was first going through this, I had no idea what was wrong with me for the first several months. I was confused,” said Kiersten, now a Vandegrift senior.
Since her symptoms started in November 2017, she has visited the ER 10 separate times and has been hospitalized seven times.
“The first few months were the hardest,” said Iben Dyke, Kiersten’s mother. She and her husband David moved to Steiner Ranch nearly 15 years ago. They also have a son Christian, 14, who is a freshman at Vandegrift.
“We didn’t have a diagnosis, and we didn’t find much help from doctors in Austin,” Iben said. “We didn’t have a diagnosis until March 2018 and didn’t find doctors in Houston until April 2018.”
After visiting an ophthalmologist, Kiersten found out her optic nerves were swollen. After discovering that she was having issues with her eyes, she was sent in for a spinal tap, an MRI, and an MRV.
Finally last March, Kiersten was diagnosed with her first medical condition – intracranial hypertension. Last summer, she had to travel out to Pennsylvania where doctors told her she had critical stenosis of a brain vessel, specifically of the superior sagittal sinus and the transverse sinus.
While in Pennsylvania, Kiersten had to undergo brain surgery and have a stent placed to help with blood flow. It is supposed to alleviate some of the pressure and therefore improve her symptoms.
By this point, Kiersten’s family has taken her to dozens of out-of-town trips for doctor appointments and treatments as many doctors in Austin simply don’t have the resources or the knowledge to deal with her conditions. She’s been out-of-state three times and will go to Pennsylvania again this month.
“Now she has a great medical team but unfortunately, we have to travel to Houston and even Pennsylvania to get the best care,” Iben said.
Kiersten spent months in and out of school with no solidified knowledge of what was happening, as even the doctors were unaware.
Eventually, she finally got results from tests and had three main disorders. Beyond her pseudotumor cerebri or intracranial hypertension, Kiersten also has dysautonomia, ehlers danlos syndrome, and probably MALS (median arcuate ligament syndrome).
“I went through all the phases,” Kiersten said. “I was mad, I kept thinking things like ‘why me’ and I would think ‘it’s not fair’, ‘I did nothing to deserve this.’ But then I realized, that I’m so grateful that I went through this because if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have discovered all these things about me.”
All along, she has not wanted to feel sorry for herself.
“I don’t want pity, I don’t want to be treated like the sick girl,” Kiersten said.
“Ever since I was little I’ve always been very happy and optimistic,” Kiersten said. “[What helped] has been my family support and my friends, and just doing normal things and feeling okay with what’s going on in my body. Accepting it and not pushing it off to the side [has] made me ten times better of a person.”
Kiersten’s support system is a large contributor to her endless positivity. Her mother is a licensed therapist and counselor, which Kiersten says has assisted her a lot throughout the process.
Additionally, as her medical issues progressed, her support from those around her, family, friends and classmates, expanded. Some of her friendships even flourished because of her sickness due to hospital visits as her friends tried to understand what was happening as they were helping help her get through it.
“Her sickness was very slow,” Kiersten’s best friend, Piper Swearengin said. “She wouldn’t be at school and we knew she was sick and then all of the sudden, she was in the hospital. I was like, if my classmate is sick, I want to do something nice for her.”
Moving forward, Kiersten plans to assist those with special needs. She wants to be an occupational therapist.
“I’m very involved in the ICAP (Individual Community Academic Program) at our school,” Kiersten said. “I’m an ambassador connecting the two, with an inclusion between special needs and GenEd. I’m super passionate about it, it’s something I want to do when I’m older as a career. I love anything to do with helping others, but mostly [those with] special needs.”
Kiersten is also involved in the PALS program, which is a leadership and mentor organization that volunteers in the community and helps children at local feeder schools.
“Kiersten is one of the most amazing young ladies I have ever worked with,” Vandegrift PALS teacher Laura Freund said. “She has the biggest heart for helping others. With all that Kiersten has gone through, she has some pretty good reasons to be focusing on herself, but she doesn’t. She never does. If she is at all able, she will step up, help and volunteer. This girl is gem.”
Though Kiersten has always been a positive person, there are a few details about her that she says have been changed since her diagnosis.
“One word that I never would have used to describe myself before would be ‘strong’, but now I think that’s what I would describe myself as,” Kiersten said. “I’m so grateful for who I am today, I mean, I’m pretty much the same person, but I’m a lot more in tune with the world.”
This process has not only taught her more about who she is, but also about what she values and what should remain as an unimportant afterthought.
“I don’t care about things so much anymore,” Kiersten said. “I used to care about what people thought of me or how something looks on me. Now all I really care about is being happy and healthy.”
Additionally, her kindness towards others has always been prominent but that quality holds more value to her now.
“You never know what someone’s going through, like everything I have is invisible,” Kiersten said. “When people see me, they don’t know and they might be really rude, so I’ve learned that being kind is all that actually matters.”
Lynette Haaland contributed to this article.
Fundraiser Pancake Breakfast
A Fundraiser Pancake Breakfast will be held to support Kiersten Dyke, Vandegrift senior, and her family with medical expenses. Saturday, Jan. 19 from 8 a.m. to noon at Cups & Cones in Steiner Ranch at 2900 N. Quinlan Park Rd. There will be pancakes and choice of bacon or sausage for $10 donation per person. Family friend and neighbor, Tina Beamer, along with members of Viper PALS are working together to host the event. More information at Kiersten’s GoFundMe page: gofundme.com/rrj3q