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Experience - Julia McCoy

By Julia McCoy

At age 26, Julia McCoy had debilitating arm and neck pain that wouldn’t go away. The discomfort started from the moment she woke, until her head hit the pillow at night. McCoy Googled possible causes for her symptoms, which included poor hand strength, collarbone and neck pain, and hands turning purple. Eventually, she was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, or TOS, which occurs when blood vessels between the collarbone and first rib are compressed. TOS has several possible causes—injury, anatomical defects, poor posture, pregnancy. In the case of McCoy, an avid athlete, it was likely the result of overuse.

My Worst Day

I reached my breaking point when I could no longer hike with my dog, Zoe. I rescued her from Kentucky, and I felt like I was not giving her the life she deserved.

What I Did to Get Better

found Maggie Arnold, a vascular surgeon at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Ultrasound showed compression in my blood vessels: why my hands were turning purple. As a recovering alcoholic with an aversion to medications, I did not want to pursue pain management. Instead, I tried physical therapy combined with a Botox injection that helped for a few months. Finally, I chose surgery to remove my first rib, which would relieve compression and make space for the nerves that go from my neck to my arms. Surgery eliminated my arm pain, but the neck pain eventually returned. Another surgery, a neurolysis, was performed to repair and decompress the nerves in my clavicle area. Finally, I was back in the game.

Me Now

I follow a physical therapy protocol to keep my TOS at bay. If I experience pain, I do PT stretches and practice yoga. I’m now back at the gym, hiking with my dog, and I can get across campus without a backpack on rollers. My experience with Dr. Arnold and her care team inspired me to change my educational path from radiology to pre-med. Once I graduate, I plan to apply to physician assistant programs and continue to explore the world with Zoe.

Cameron Cottrill

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