When University of Houston undergrad Claudia Martinez started getting debilitating headaches and loss of feeling in her extremities, the last thing she expected was the news that she would need immediate brain surgery.
While most students don’t have to worry about much more than organizing their notes for exams, though, Martinez found herself being wheeled into an operating room for her first of what would ultimately be six different brain surgeries over the course of her collegiate education. She had been diagnosed with a rare condition called a Chiari malformation, which could potentially cause paralysis if it wasn’t operated on immediately.
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She underwent several surgeries to treat the condition, which causes brain matter to extend into the spinal cord, putting undue pressure on the brain stem, and was in and out of the hospital throughout her treatment.
Yet, despite all this, Martinez refused to let her medical setbacks prevent her from excelling in her studies. After graduating from the University of Houston with a 4.0 GPA, she was accepted into the medical school of her dreams: The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, right where she was being treated. But this was just the beginning of her battle with the disease, which would ultimately test her spirit and determination, a “blessing in disguise,” she called it.
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Yet her medical affliction persisted and continued to advance.
Martinez suffered a seizure in her first year of medical studies and had to undergo experimental surgery. In her third year, she suffered a catastrophic stroke that rendered her incapacitated from the neck down, and she had to be transferred to the TIRR Memorial Herman Hospital, where she would undergo intense neuro-rehabilitation—learning how to walk again, feed herself, bathe, and dress herself.
She chronicled her journey on Facebook and Instagram, talking about the difficulties she overcame and sharing insight into how the doctors were working to help her overcome the Chiari malformation.
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“I thank God everyday for what I’ve gone through, bc [sic] it is how I’ve found my calling,” she wrote, via WebMD. “I’ve officially decided to pursue a residency in PM&R (Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation).”
Since then, Martinez has contributed time and effort to raise funds for research into Chiari and to being a mentor for medical student hopefuls. She’s is now planning to help organize what would be her fourth 5k charity walk, having already raised some $55,000 so far. She also works with minority people who are aspiring toward the medical profession.
“Yes, I’m here to advocate for myself, but more importantly for those who do not yet have a voice, for those coming after me, and for my future patients,” she told FOX News. “If I can set a trail to guide others so they don’t have to suffer as much as I have, then it will all be worth it.”
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