(BPT) – At age 22, Gail Devers was living her dream. She was a senior in college, already an American record holder in the 100-meter hurdles and on her way to competing at her first Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea. Then suddenly, it became evident something was off. Within a couple of months, Gail went from posting her personal best to running slower than ever before, causing her to miss the Olympic finals. Soon, Gail had lost nearly 40 pounds, her skin was flakey, her hair was thinning and she was suffering from pain in her eyes, too.
Eager for answers, Gail met with a multitude of doctors, all who said: nothing was wrong, she was stressed, she’d peaked too early with her training, or worst of all, she was imagining things. With no answer in sight and her track career on hold, Gail’s physical health began to take an emotional toll. She stopped leaving her house, covered up all the mirrors and just wanted to black out the world. Her body and eyes had changed so much to where she didn’t recognize the person staring back at her. But even in the toughest moments, Gail was determined to find answers and come back even stronger.
Nearly three years later, Gail was finally diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition where the thyroid becomes overactive and produces more thyroid hormones than necessary, also known as hyperthyroidism. ‘The diagnosis was both a relief and a turning point, as I had the motivation to take the next step in my health journey,’ Gail said. ‘I still had my goals and dreams, and as someone who knows hurdles, I decided this was just another one I had to figure out how to get over.’
With Graves’ disease finally under control and with a lot of grit, determination and support from coaches, family and friends, Gail qualified for the Barcelona Olympic Games, where she won her first of three Olympic gold medals. Yet, Gail continued to suffer from her eye symptoms. Gail’s eyes were bulging, irritated and dry, and she couldn’t close them fully when she slept.
For decades, Gail learned to live with her eye symptoms. ‘It got so bad, there were times I couldn’t even see the hurdles in front of me,’ Gail added.
It would take 30 years before Gail was finally diagnosed with Thyroid Eye Disease, also known as TED; a separate but related condition to Graves’ disease, that requires separate care and treatment. ‘In all that time, not a single doctor mentioned that I was at risk for another condition or that my eye symptoms were separate from Graves’,’ said Gail.
Now, Gail manages her eye symptoms with a team of doctors – a TED Eye Specialist, an ophthalmologist with special training in diagnosing and treating TED, and an endocrinologist who continues to manage her Graves’ disease.
It’s Not Too Late
As a mentor to the next generation of athletes and an impassioned health advocate, Gail is determined to pass along her knowledge to help others. ‘Whether you’ve been living with Graves’ disease for a long time like me, or were recently diagnosed, it’s not too late to know your risk for TED, learn the signs and symptoms, and take action if necessary.’
Signs and Symptoms of TED
- Dry or gritty feeling in your eyes
- Feeling like something’s stuck in your eyes
- Watery, teary eyes
- Eye pain and pressure behind your eyes
- Bulging eyes and/or swollen eyelids
- Eyelid retraction (pulled back eyelids)
- Misaligned eyes (eyes point in different directions)
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurry and/or double vision
- Loss of vision/color vision (occurs in a small number of patients)
For people living with a thyroid condition
- Know you’re at an increased risk of developing TED
- If you notice any changes in your eyes, write them down and bring those notes to your appointments
- Make an appointment with a TED Eye Specialist at the first signs of any changes in your eye symptoms and request a comprehensive eye exam. Find a TED Eye Specialist near you at TEDdoctors.com.