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Young Woman Achieves Goal of Becoming a Lawyer While Managing Pulmonary Hypertension

As an active law student, Lauryn Durham never thought she’d have to manage a chronic condition at 24 years old all while studying for the Ohio Bar Exam. After fainting several times at the gym, Lauryn went to the emergency department where she would ultimately find out she had pulmonary arterial hypertension.

“I essentially went from having nothing wrong with me to finding out I have this rare, chronic disease,” says Lauryn.

Leading up to her diagnosis, Lauryn exercised regularly and swam in her free time. It was unusual when she started experiencing shortness of breath, but she didn’t think anything of it at first. However, it progressed to the point where she couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded and started fainting.

“When I was in the hospital after passing out, things took a turn for the worse. I was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension on St. Patrick's Day. The next day they had to resuscitate me after I coded in the pulmonary ICU,” says Lauryn, who was in heart failure at the time.

Lauryn in the hospital.
Lauryn had never been hospitalized before fainting multiple times and ultimately being diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension. (Courtesy: Lauryn Durham)

Pulmonary arterial hypertension is one form of pulmonary hypertension that causes the small blood vessels in the lungs to narrow, which means blood can’t flow through your lungs as well as it should. This leads to high blood pressure in your pulmonary arteries. The heart eventually gets weaker because it’s working harder to pump blood to your lungs – possibly leading to heart failure and other health issues. Pulmonary arterial hypertension is exceedingly rare with about 500 to 1,000 people being diagnosed with the condition each year.

“Pulmonary arterial hypertension is more commonly found in women with the average age of onset being between 30 and 60 years of age. Being 24 years old at the time, Lauryn was rare on rare,” according to clinical nurse specialist Mindy Rivera, adding it’s unclear what caused Lauryn to develop this disease.

Once her condition stabilized, Lauryn, who never had an IV line before all this, was now tasked with learning how to use a portable infusion pump. After leaving the hospital, it’s something she had to carry with her at all times, with a tube running from the device and connecting to a port in her chest. This was used to deliver the life-saving medication she needed to open her blood vessels and ensure proper blood flow.

“It was very difficult trying to learn everything I needed to know about this new chronic illness while also studying for the bar. But I thought this condition will not define me, and I'm still going to reach my goal of becoming a lawyer,” says Lauryn, who recalls feeling like a chemist while mixing her medications for the infusion pump.

During this time, Lauryn says Mindy and her care team worked with her to schedule follow-up appointments that fit her schedule, while she completed her remaining law classes at Case Western Reserve University, and quickly answered any questions she had. Although it was difficult to juggle everything at times, Lauryn passed the bar on her first try. She immediately shared the good news with Mindy and others who cared for her along the way.

Lauryn at Case Western Reserve University.
Lauryn’s care team worked with her to ensure she was able to continue classes at Case Western Reserve University while managing her condition. (Courtesy: Lauryn Durham)

“Mindy and everyone were so excited. When I thought about the people who should know I passed the bar, I thought of them. They've been along for the ride,’” says Lauryn.

Mindy adds, “That was an incredible feeling when she called to tell us she passed the bar, and there was definitely cheering and dancing going on in the nursing office. It's such a nice, tangible reminder what we do every day cumulatively matters and affects someone's life.”

Now a practicing attorney at a global law firm, Lauryn’s living out her dream as her condition continues to improve. She no longer needs an infusion pump and can manage her pulmonary hypertension with oral medications. “I feel like I did before I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension,” exclaims Lauryn. She continues to follow up with her care team, which includes Mindy and cardiologist Sanjeeb Bhattacharya, MD.

“Lauryn’s heart function and pulmonary hypertension have improved greatly since starting therapy. So much so, we decided to take her off IV therapy and transitioned to three types of oral medications. This is an incredible testament to the effort from Lauryn and the large team that has cared for her,” says Dr. Bhattacharya.

Since her diagnosis, Lauryn has been a passionate advocate for the pulmonary hypertension community – participating in studies and sharing her story to raise awareness about the rare condition that impacts about 1% of people globally. She wants others to know pulmonary hypertension can affect all ages.

Lauryn when she was sworn in as an attorney.
Even amid her health challenges, Lauryn’s determination led her to where she is today: A practicing attorney at a global law firm in Cleveland, Ohio. (Courtesy: Lauryn Durham)

“There's no face for pulmonary hypertension. I want to continue advocating for the condition and rare illnesses in general because even though I don’t have a port anymore, I’m still living with this chronic disease and have limitations,” says Lauryn. “I want to open people’s eyes to the fact you may not be able to tell someone is living with a chronic illness just by looking at them.”

Mindy adds, “If you met Lauryn today, you would have no idea she’s been through this arduous journey. She’s going to leave her mark on the world as well as the pulmonary hypertension community. She’s one of my heroes, and it’s been so richly rewarding to care for her.”

Above all, Lauryn is sharing her story to show others it’s possible to still live your life with pulmonary hypertension. When she’s not working, Lauryn enjoys traveling, trying new restaurants with friends and staying active through Pilates. She stresses the importance of finding the right care when it comes to treating pulmonary hypertension.

“Try to find a supportive medical team like I have. This is important when you need help understanding a rare condition. Try to look on the brighter side of things as well because it’s possible to live the life you want with pulmonary hypertension,” says Lauryn.

Related Institutes: Heart, Vascular & Thoracic Institute (Miller Family), Respiratory Institute
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