Columnists Health Health Matters

HEALTH MATTERS: Anngeannette Pinkston’s eye-opening experience: Graves’ disease

Born and raised in Harlem, Anngeannette Pinkston was surrounded by the typical temptations that plagued people living in big cities. She chose to follow the footsteps of her older brother Andrew, who was in law enforcement. She graduated from the New York Police Academy and eventually became a detective and ultimately served for 12 years.

It wasn’t the uncertainties of serving in the Manhattan North Narcotics Division that caused her stress.

“During my first year on the police force, I witnessed the worst tragedy in modern history — the 9/11 attacks,” Pinkston said. “I was 30 years old and preparing to testify for a court case that morning. I arrived too early and decided to do some banking about five blocks from the World Trade Center.”

At that moment, from a clear vantage point, Pinkston watched in horror as the plane crashed into the tower and people fell and jumped to their death.

Pinkston was devastated but committed to serving the people of New York.

“The following day, I was assigned to Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island, the site where debris and the remains from the World Trade Center were separated into evidence,” Pinkston said. Some victims, not having been recovered from the debris on site, were transported to the landfill.

“We had to sort through the personal effects of people who had perished or were missing from the 9/11 incident.”

Pinkston worked on that assignment until May 14, 2002. Three years later, she was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid and asthma. Pinkston was not alarmed because both medical conditions were treatable. It’s what happened a few years later that changed her life.

While on duty in December 2012, Pinkston felt an unusual tightness of her eyes.

“When I got home, I saw a red stream down my left eye,” Pinkston said. “I brushed it off because every time I rubbed my eye, the stream of red liquid would disappear.

“The next day, I returned to work but the tightness became worse and the red stream was still there. My partner noticed that my eyes were unusually enlarged,” Pinkston said. “I thought it was an exaggeration because I was born with big eyes, I inherited from my father’s side of the family.

“I took a selfie and was scared. I finally decided to go to the hospital after work. The doctor told me that due to the tightness of my eyes, a blood vessel burst in my eyes which caused the blood to flow in the front of my eyes,” Pinkston said.

The doctor performed emergency surgery on her eye that night.

“After the surgery, I saw numerous doctors who couldn’t figure out what I had,” Pinkston said. “Even the doctors had never seen anything like what I was going through before.”

A year later, after Pinkston endured a series of tests and blood work, probing, sticking of needles, head scans, dye scans to her brain, a thyroid specialist found the answer.

Pinkston was diagnosed with Graves’ disease on Aug. 7, 2013, her 42nd birthday.

Pinkston did not have all the risk factors. Graves’ disease was not part of her family history. She did not have other autoimmune disorders, was not pregnant and did not smoke. However, as a woman under 40, and having suffered a stressful life event made her susceptible to the disorder.

Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease. Diseases of the immune system have a genetic predisposition. In a normal body, the immune system defends itself against germs and viruses. Other examples of autoimmune disease include Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosis, psoriasis, and celiac disease. Autoimmune diseases can affect different parts of the body. (Source: LymeNow.com)

Patients with Graves’ disease may experience some level of dry eyes, swelling, redness, eyelid retraction, and a “gritty” sensation. Less common complications include bulging (proptosis), double vision and compression of the optic nerve.

Symptoms typically progress and then stabilize over a period of two to three years. For more serious complications, surgical options are available to restore eye function and appearance.

The Mayo Clinic describes Graves’ disease and hyperthyroidism, also known as toxic diffuse goiter, as the most common cause of hyperthyroidism — a disorder that occurs when the thyroid gland makes more thyroid hormone than the body needs.

The National Institutes of Health reports that Graves’ disease affects approximately 2 to 3 percent of the population or almost 10 million people. The figure may be higher because some may have eye involvement but not diagnosed with thyroid problems.

Graves’ is five to 10 times more common in women than men. Graves’ usually occurs in middle age, but also occurs in children, adolescents and the elderly.

The doctors prescribed Pinkston a daily medication — Levothyroxine.

“I’ve had numerous surgeries on my eyes and still more to come, I still use eye drops to relieve my eye dryness,” she said.

Pinkston notes that her equilibrium is off whack, her weight fluctuates, her heart races and legs, arms and hands gets numb at times. “It’s hard to breathe when I walk fast,” she said.

You would think the side effects of having Graves’ disease would have made working a full-time job challenging. Quite the contrary. Pinkston never thought her appearance would end her tour of duty with the NYPD.

“One of the police officers told me that they couldn’t stand to see my eye practically coming out of my socket,” she said. “After my diagnosis, I was relieved to understand what the problem and could control it, so I went to work every day as if nothing was wrong with my eyes,” Pinkston said. “Truth be told, my eyeballs were protruding out of my sockets and it was more offensive to my colleagues.”

Pinkston retired in 2014 because she could no longer perform her job without distracting her colleagues.

The Mayo Clinic states that about 30 percent of people with Graves’ disease show some signs and symptoms of a condition known as Graves’ ophthalmopathy. In Graves’ ophthalmopathy, inflammation and other immune system events affect muscles and other tissues around your eyes such as bulging eyes.

However, her story did not end at the precinct. Pinkston became a successful entrepreneur. She owns SKII magazine; SKII TV Show; and the founder and CEO of NYC & State TV, Plays and Film Festival.

“I am currently producing my first feature film, “KEYS – Crooked Cops, Honest Cops and Then There Were Others,” based on some of my experiences while employed by the NYPD,” said Pinkston.

Resources:

Mayo Clinic – www.mayoclinic.org

American Association of Endocrine Surgeons – www.endocrinesurgery.org/

American Thyroid Association – www.thyroid.org/

Graves’ Disease & Thyroid Foundation – www.gdatf.org/

International Thyroid Federation – www.thyroid-fed.org/tfi-wp/

National Institutes of Health/Medline Plus – www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/thyroiddiseases.html

Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to healthmatters@wavepublication.com and look for her column in The Wave.