2014-09-05 / Community

Fund set up to help with woman’s rare condition

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

A fund has been set up to aid’s Karley Fortier’s battle with superior mesenteric artery syndrome, a rare gastrointestinal disease 
(Courtesy photo) A fund has been set up to aid’s Karley Fortier’s battle with superior mesenteric artery syndrome, a rare gastrointestinal disease (Courtesy photo) BIDDEFORD/SACO – Karley Fortier, 30, of Biddeford, has had stomach pain since eighth grade, but never thought she would be diagnosed with a rare life-threatening disorder that few doctors have experienced.

In June, she had a 14-hour attack while working as a manager at the Dollar Store that immobilized her, causing her to spend much of her shift sitting in front of a fan to alleviate the pain. After going to the hospital and having numerous tests taken, she was eventually diagnosed with superior mesenteric artery syndrome. The gastrointestinal disorder occurs when the duodenum – part of the small intestine – is compressed by the abdominal aorta and superior mesenteric artery, resulting in damage to both the intestines and the arteries.

Lauren Folsom of Saco has set up a donation account at the Town & Country Federal Credit Union, to help her friend. Folsom is hoping that people will donate to help Fortier cover living expenses while she is bedridden for one to two months after surgery, scheduled for Sept. 3 at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Fortier said the pain can result in dizziness and cause her to see stars, and typically acts up two or three times a day.

“It feels like there’s a bag of bricks on my stomach,” Fortier said. “One of the symptoms is to bloat. I can walk down the street skinny, and when I’m done, I can look pregnant.”

Fortier said having the syndrome has significantly restricted her diet.

“I’m not supposed to eat fatty, greasy foods –– all the foods I love –– Mexican, pizza, steak,” she said. “I’m not supposed to eat all of the stuff people love. I can only have a silver-dollar size of steak if I do, and I have to cut it into teeny pieces.”

For years, Fortier said she thought she might be lactose-intolerant. During the recent attack, she thought she might have appendicitis. Fortier said the disorder is difficult to diagnose because it has simi lar symptoms to other conditions such as scoliosis, Crohn’s disease, pancreatitis, and appendicitis. Fortier said she also has scoliosis, which made identifying the superior mesenteric artery syndrome even more difficult.

“It’s hard because it can be so many different things,” Fortier said. “(The doctors) never believed it was something because they had never seen it, but once a gastro specialist looked at the CAT scan and realized what it was – the specialist was led to the top four or five vascular surgeons in the U.S. to see if it was a real syndrome.”

Fortier returned to Maine several years after her family moved from Saco to Florida because she wanted to be closer to the friends she made while attending Saco Middle School and Thornton Academy. Growing up in Saco, Fortier had befriended her neighbor, Folsom, and sometimes babysat her two daughters.

Folsom said when she found out Fortier, who is now a divorced mother of two, was going to undergo a significant surgery, she thought, “Something needs to be done.”

“I set up a donation account because I want her to be focused on getting well,” Folsom said. “I have been connected to the community for a long time and know people who will rise to the occasion if they know people who are in need.”

Fortier said both the state’s top gastro surgeon and vascular surgeon will help perform the bypass surgery that will remove part of her intestines, and hopefully reposition the artery in a way so that it doesn’t need to be severed and reconnected.

“They don’t know much about it,” Fortier said. “They’re not even sure 100 percent that they can fix this.”

Although fewer than 500 known cases of superior mesenteric artery syndrome have been identified since the 1800s, and the disorder is said to have a one in three mortality rate, Fortier said she is hopeful that the doctors will be able to help remove the conditions have caused her pain for most of her life.

Folsom said she looked into setting up a GoFundMe account to raise money so Fortier can pay bills while in recovery, but the crowdfunding website takes a certain percentage for fees.

“This way, all the funds raised go directly to her, to help with her bills,” Folsom said.

Fortier said her mother intends to visit for six days, including the four days that she will be staying in the hospital, to help take care of her kids.

Fortier said when she returns home, it will be challenging to take care of her 3-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter because they are too young to understand the full impact of her surgery.

“The kids might get upset because they can’t go outside,” she said.

Donations to the Karley Fortier Recovery Fund may be mailed to Town & Country FCU, P. O. Box 9420, South Portland, ME 04116-9420.

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