Be My Lungs: Michelle Figueras

July 24,2019

I am here to beat this!

I was 32 at diagnosis. The doctors told me I couldn’t have kids. Financial fear crippled me when I heard, “This is a life-long condition. You will need medication for the rest of your life.” I panicked when I internet searched, “life expectancy for pulmonary arterial hypertension.” I was diagnosed at the prime of my life and was faced with news I was not ready to hear at this child-bearing age.

I had two choices. Option one: I continue the anxiety of feeling inadequate as a partner because of my inability to have children, while stressing about high medical costs and co-pays. Option two: I could be thankful for finally receiving an accurate diagnosis and find a support system to help me manage the anxiety and depression that is so often coupled with a chronic illness. Obviously, I chose the latter. I always say that I didn’t start living my life until I almost lost it. It holds true to this day.

My symptoms started in childhood. I had asthma and always seemed to have breathing issues. I never could keep up running the mile in grade school. We blamed it on the fresh cut grass or allergies. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that the fatigue and shortness of breath kicked in. I looked completely healthy so when I went to my doctor complaining about always being tired, I was diagnosed with depression. When I knew I wasn’t depressed, I told my doctor that my heart was always racing and I could feel my heart beat out of my chest. My second diagnosis was anxiety. I realized that was not the case when I started to retain water in my legs. At that point, my doctor said I had regular systemic high blood pressure.

I had taken my high blood pressure medication for years, and the episodes of edema and shortness of breath kept on coming. Finally, in June of 2013, I was extremely short of breath walking just 20 steps on a flat surface. I was swollen from head to toe and practically unrecognizable due to the swelling in my face. I went to urgent care and was sent to the Emergency Room.

I spent a week at UCI Medical Center in Orange County undergoing multiple tests that confirmed the diagnosis. Idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension (IPAH).

I have come a long way since getting diagnosed. I am now on triple therapy with medications attacking three different pathways of the disease. With a few dietary changes and diligence in my treatment, I am able to live a pretty normal and active lifestyle. I have a great support system and I stay active in the PH community. There is so much life to be lived, and every day I wake up alive is a blessing.

Michelle is part of Team PHenomenal Hope’s Let Me Be Your Lungs program. Her partner Carl Hicks is racing in support of her. Learn more about Carl’s efforts here.

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