The Erin Robinson Story
Erin Robinson, a young, ambitious 21 year old from South Hill, VA had graduated from Longwood University in May of 2015 with her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and decided to enroll in a Master’s program the fall of 2015. Only a couple months after her college graduation Erin started to feel nauseous constantly along with occasional dizziness. Erin would not make it to a class that next semester and here is why.
In July of 2015, Erin went to see a gastroenterologist in Richmond, VA where she endured tests for hours. After the initial tests, she was diagnosed with gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is a condition in which your stomach cannot empty itself of food in a normal fashion. Often, the cause of gastroparesis is unknown.
Erin’s sister, Nicole Dugger of Brodnax, researched the disease and got Erin an appointment with one the best gastroparesis doctors in the country, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. An assistant in the office talked to Erin for an hour and the doctor came in for about five minutes and instructed the nurses to take five vials of blood to test. When the tests came back there was no change in the diagnosis. Erin still felt sick and was seeking help from a different physician.
Determined to get help for her sister, Nichole begged the office staff of a doctor in Winston-Salem, NC, whom was also touted as one of the top gastroparesis doctors in the country, to see Erin as quickly as possible. Her plea for help was granted as Erin was seen by the doctor in October of 2015.
The doctor in Winston-Salem ran more tests on Erin, one being a stomach emptying test, along with a radioactive trace test. (The radioactive trace test takes a picture of someone’s stomach every hour for four hours.) The results from the tests showed that her stomach was fine. Erin was told she could go back to eating regular foods, but when she attempted it, she was still severely nauseous. So, more tests were needed to be done to figure out what was causing the painful nausea.
Erin traveled again to Winston-Salem where the doctor put her on a tilt-table test. For this test she had to lay flat for five minutes, strapped in (because many people in her condition faint), as they kept her standing for 30 minutes and watched her blood pressure and heart rate. During the test Erin was lightheaded, dizzy and saw white spots. Her heart rate rose to 156 beats per minute, just from laying to standing.
Two weeks after the tilt-table test, the doctor diagnosed Erin with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). POTS is a condition in which a change from the laying position to an upright position causes an abnormally large increase in heart rate, called tachycardia. The causes of POTS are poorly understood, and it is likely that several distinct underlying problems can lead to the symptoms
All Erin would have to do was take salt tablets and her severe nausea would subside. But, another problem occurred as Erin couldn’t keep the tablets down. Erin tried multiple times to take the salt tablets but vomiting occurred each time.
While still dealing with vomiting, nausea, hunger and dizziness, Erin was sent to a cardiologist by her doctor in Winston-Salem. Erin said that the cardiologist gave her an article to read and said he couldn’t help her. Still without any relief of her symptoms, Erin did more research and found a POTS specialist at VCU Medical Center in Richmond, VA named Dr. Sica.
Erin’s mother called Dr. Sica’s office attempting to get an appointment but to her disdain the earliest time her daughter could be seen was months out. So, the desperate mother called Dr. Sica and in tears, explained her daughter’s story, how she had been in pain for months and that she just wanted to find someone who could help her. After the call, Erin got an appointment the next day.
Dr. Sica decided to give Erin a medication that would help her to retain salt, instead of taking salt tablets that she couldn’t keep down. At first this didn’t exactly work as planned as it made Erin very dehydrated, which eventually lead to home health coming in to give Erin fluids though IV lines. Erin stated that at this point her spirit was fading because she couldn’t believe she needed someone to come into her home to take care of her at such a young age.
Erin stated that she constantly read Proverbs 3:5 from the Bible that said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding." IV lines would take hours to be inserted because of her dehydration, so Erin believed that it had to be a better way to treat her symptoms.
At this point, Erin was seeing improvements with her new medication and the IV fluids. She was only nauseous about every other day, she was able to eat minimally and felt stronger, especially after drinking her mother’s special concoction consisting of coconut water, lemons, limes, oranges, honey, sugar and salt.
Seeing improvement in Erin’s health, Dr. Sica told his young patient that to be able to function normally she needed to improve her strength through specialty exercise, which in-turn will reduce her dizziness when standing. Convenient for Erin, there was an exercise center located close to her in South Hill, the Hendrick Cancer and Rehab Center of VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital.
Erin’s first exercise experience started in Water Aerobics twice a week with instructor Rhonda Campbell. Erin said, “Rhonda was fantastic to work with, she showed me exercises that were just for me. She genuinely cared about my well-being.” Also at the rehab center is where Erin met Kimberly Brown, Exercise Physiologist for VCU Health CMH, and “Kim in the gym” (as she calls her) created an exercise plan specifically tailored for Erin’s condition each visit while monitoring her heart rate. Over a six month span Erin went from not being able to get out of her bed to now exercising five days a week with Kim.
During a February, 2016 visit with Dr. Sica at VCU in Richmond, Erin was told that she was showing vast improvement and the doctor recommended increasing her work-out time from 60 minutes per day to 90 minutes per day. Even though POTS is not curable the symptoms can be controlled and through medication and exercise Erin has been able to thrive.
Kimberly Brown, Exercise Physiologist for VCU Health CMH said, “Erin’s mindset of developing a healthy self from the inside out was extremely positive. She didn’t focus on what she had to give up; instead, she focused on what she had to gain. This determination will carry her above and beyond with great success.”
Erin stated, “The staff at the Hendrick Cancer and Rehab center are phenomenal, they go above and beyond expectations. I would highly recommend the center to anyone. They motivate me and with their help I feel fantastic.” Erin also said, “I want to thank my family for being there for me and helping me get through this tough time in my life; my sister, Nicole Dugger of Brodnax, my parents Terry and Martin Robinson of South Hill, Nancy Carey of South Hill and my boyfriend, Brian James of LaCrosse.”
Donna F. Jarrell, VCU Health CMH Rehab Director said, “The Hendrick Cancer & Rehab Center was built with the intention to benefit the people of our community, people just like Erin Robinson. We are much more than a gym; we are a medical fitness center dedicated to practicing the concept of exercise is actual medicine. We believe that exercise is one of the best prescription medicines that people can take and that a person needs to participate in the right type of exercise for the right amount of time and at the correct intensity to obtain the best results. Staying abreast of and implementing the latest scientific based exercise prescriptions is what we specialize in.”
Erin will be attending Longwood University in the fall of 2016, working towards the completion of a Master’s Degree in the field of counseling. According to Erin, POTS is an under-diagnosed condition that is sometimes misinterpreted as anxiety. She hopes her story will spread awareness for POTS and inspire those suffering from the condition to take control of the syndrome and find their path to a healthier life. Erin is now back on pace in following her dreams and it was all made possible by a doctor who cared, a family who wouldn’t give up, an exercise staff that truly believed, a tremendous will to get better and her unyielding faith.
Photo (L to R):
Erin Robinson is pictured with Kimberly Brown, Exercise Physiologist at the Hendrick Cancer & Rehab Center of VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill.