By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
PETALUMA — It’s only been since June 5 that Jacque Taylor said she could smile again, really smile again, after 2½ years of having a clenched face, wondering what the heck was going on with her body. Why was she losing feeling in her fingers and toes? Why was she having heart palpitations? Why was she having difficulty breathing? Why was she getting light-headed? Why was it that she looked like a million bucks on the outside but felt like a buck 90 on the inside?
It got to the point Taylor had to leave the University of North Carolina last January and her athletic scholarship and return to her hometown. She was the 2009 California State Champion in cross country, doing Casa Grande proud, but this thing she had, it was wearing her out and the long distance calls to her mom and dad after a time didn’t lessen the anxiety.
The neurologists, cardiologists, gastroenterologists, she can’t even remember all the sub-specialists who examined her here and there in Chapel Hill. They all thought Taylor had an iron deficiency. But iron supplements didn’t reduce the symptoms. They only increased.
Until Dr. Sanjay Dhar, a Sutter Medical Center cardiologist, brushed a piece of paper across her face a little over a week ago.
Did you feel that? I do, Taylor said.
How about that? Yes, she could feel the paper going across her shoulders. And that? Yes, she could feel it on her arms. And this? Uh, no, she couldn’t feel it on her fingertips. How about this? No, she couldn’t feel it on her toes.
Dr. Dhar consulted with a Sutter associate, Dr. J. Richard Mendius, a neurologist. The physicians came to the same conclusion.
Taylor, 20, was suffering from isoniazid-induced peripheral neuropathy. You may experience numbness in your tongue trying to saying it. How Taylor acquired the dysfunction, however, will take longer to explain than those four consonant-vowel eating words.
In the fall of 2009, Taylor wanted to job shadow her mother, Alyson, a medical coder at the Chanate campus of Sutter. To do so, Taylor needed to be tested. One revealed she had latent tuberculosis, a disease that, left untreated, would lead to tuberculosis later in life, probably much later.
“I felt fine,” Taylor said. “I had no symptoms.”
She said she was told a drug, isoniazid, was the cure.
“It was supposed to kill everything,” Taylor said. “It did. It killed my nerves.”
Two percent of the patients who take isoniazid, Taylor said she was told, would experience adverse affects. And it was nearly immediately that Taylor started to experience those side effects from taking a daily dose of 300 milligrams for six months.
“I became intolerant to certain foods,” she said. Sausage, nuts, chocolate, soy sauce, among other edibles, made her sick to her stomach. She was experiencing chest pain. She had asthma. Her vision would blur. Her heart would race — “Like it would jump right out of my mouth,” Taylor said.
“I went up one flight of stairs in Chapel Hill when that happened.”
The symptoms, she said, were subtle, almost imperceptible, in the beginning. Like a nuisance of a symptom. So easy to disregard. And it didn’t prevent her from competing. On Sept. 3, 2010, at the Covered Bridge Open in Boone, N.C., Taylor was only one of three women to crack 18 minutes on the cross country course, running a 17:56.30. It was her first competition as a collegian. Taylor finished 31st in the ACC cross country championships that season, 33rd in the NCAA Regionals. She was on everyone’s radar as a rising star.
“And I honestly didn’t pay much attention (to the worsening dysfunction),” said Taylor, a two-time NCS champion. “I don’t mind pain. I like pain, in fact. In Chapel Hill they thought I had an iron deficiency.”
About a year ago Taylor could no longer use her willpower to get past the deadening nerves and shortness of breath. She was trying steroid inhalers to improve her breathing, with no improvement.
“I was weak and tired all the time,” she said. “I would walk barefoot in the summertime on a 100-degree day on concrete and not feel the heat. I’ve said it’s like wearing a bunch of socks on either of your hands and trying to feel something. You can’t. Same thing with my feet.”
Taylor left UNC in January, enrolled at Santa Rosa JC. The symptoms worsened and when asked if she became depressed, her answer was immediate.
“All the time,” Taylor said. “All I wanted to do was run.”
Then came the diagnosis on June 5, and the beginning of treatment. She has a vitamin B deficiency and is taking 200 milligrams daily. Taylor will be re-examined in a month to see if she needs her treatment adjusted. As to the long-term prognosis, the doctors have been direct with her.
“I’ll never recover full sensation in my fingertips and toes,” said Taylor, the numbness reaching the first knuckle on each appendage. “But they said they expect the chest pain, breathing, palpitations to go away.”
“They don’t know,” Taylor said. “It could go away in a month, or a year, or two-to-three years. Whenever. They don’t know.”
It’s not as if the vitamin B treatment is the guaranteed cure-all. But it’s a start, as she looks forward to getting rid of this kind of day: “Sometimes I can’t run five minutes without feeling I am having a heart attack.”
So why has her trademark broad smile returned? Three reasons come to her mind.
Taylor now has the answer to the questions that has been nagging her for the last 30 months. She is no longer in the dark.
Taylor has been told to exercise as hard and as often as she wants.
And she knows that middle-distance runners reach prime physical peak in their late 20s.
“My goals when I went to UNC are still the same goals I have now,” said Taylor, who will enter Sacramento State this fall to run cross country. “I want to go to NCAA nationals. Eventually I want to become an NCAA champion. I want to run professionally.”
And the Olympics?
“Yes, the Olympics,” she said. “In the steeplechase. Nothing has changed. I can still go after my dreams.”
In fact, the way she looks at it, isoniazid-induced peripheral neuropathy is doing her a favor.
“When I reach my late 20s,” Jacque Taylor said, “I won’t have as many miles on my body as the other girls.”
You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.