KIRBY BERANGER excels on the athletic fields and in the classroom at Prospect Mountain High School, despite dealing with a medical condition that can sap her muscle power. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
November 20, 2011ALTON — Growing up, Kirby Beranger wanted to be a soccer player. She played the sport all year and had aspirations of making it big.
Then she woke up one morning at 13 and everything changed.
"I woke up one morning and was seeing double vision," she said. "It came on overnight. We thought it was my contacts."
It was not her contacts, but rather a condition known as Myasthenia Gravis, a neuro-muscular disorder that eventually moved its way through her entire body.
"It started from the eyes and it just spread," Beranger said.
The condition she was dealing with was sapping all of her energy, making even the most mundane of tasks tiring.
For someone who was constantly running up and down a soccer field, this came as a major shock.
"Even eating, it took me five times just to swallow," she said. "I had to stop playing soccer because I could barely walk up the stairs without getting tired."
Fast-forward five years and Beranger is now a senior at Prospect Mountain High School. She is ranked near the top of the Class of 2012 and has been a consistent contributor on the Prospect Mountain softball and soccer teams over the last four years.
The road from that day she woke up with double vision to her senior year in high school has seen lots of twists and turns, but the poised young lady who stands on the precipice of graduation can look back on those twists and turns and realize that they helped to shape the person she is today.
As Beranger explains Myasthenia Gravis, it is obvious that it could have a major impact on any young person's life, never mind a young person who is incredibly active.
"It affects the muscles that you use the most and makes them really weak," she said. "It's a malfunction between the nerve endings and the muscles."
She noted that after it started in her eyes and spread to her throat it eventually continued on to her lungs, making breathing hard at times.
Beranger and her parents turned to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover to try and find answers to what was ailing the youngster and the answer was rather surprising, as people of her age were not commonly diagnosed with the condition.
"They had never seen anyone my age with it," she said. "It's usually in older people, 60-plus."
It took about a year for the doctors to diagnose the condition and then came the long process of figuring out exactly how to treat it in a patient so young.
"I tried everything from an everyday pill to plasmapheresis," she said. Plasmapheresis involves removing all the blood from the body, removing the plasma or liquid portion and then returning the blood to the body.
This process is a successful method for treating some autoimmune diseases such as Myasthenia Gravis because it removes the circulating antibodies that are thought to be active in the disease.
"But those treatments did nothing," Beranger said.
They also put her on steroids at one point, which she categorized as a miserable experience.
Finally, in the summer after her eighth grade year, the doctors found something that did the trick and it continues to work for Beranger.
Every seven or eight months, Beranger will make the trip to Dartmouth, where she receives an IV treatment. She has to go once a week for four weeks straight and so far, it's done the trick.
"I feel pretty much normal when I'm on it," she said. "But when it gets toward the end of the seven months, I can definitely feel it."
Of course, dealing with medical issues is never anyone's idea of fun and Beranger said between insurance concerns and concerns from doctors it took a while to get everything straightened out, but she can live a fairly normal life on the treatment.
However, she admits that after a particularly long week there are times she just wants to sleep or relax and the condition has limited her activity.
"It's easy if I just watch it and don't put too much stress on myself," she said. "It's limited my activity in that I can't play soccer year round, but I've been able to play soccer and be successful."
She noted that she takes extra care to stay hydrated and her coaches know of the condition and know that she may need a break here or there.
However, as an incoming freshman, she was concerned that the condition might keep her from making the varsity soccer team at Prospect Mountain.
"I remember worrying to my mom, 'what if I don't make the team because I'm tired,'" she said.
Her parents called coach Matt Locke and explained the situation and Beranger said he has been nothing but supportive of her in her four years on his team.
"Even to this day, he's like, take a break," she laughed.
She also doesn't want to give anyone the impression that she's slacking off, so she admits that she does push it a lot, though that is just the competitive side of her coming out.
"I have to know my own body and my own limits," she said.
She also plays softball for the Timber Wolves in the spring and spends time in the winter snowboarding and skiing, maintaining an active lifestyle even while dealing with a condition most people don't have to face.
And she knows that it could be much worse than what she's dealing with, as for people who have not been able to find a cure that works are often relegated to wheelchairs.
While the condition ended Beranger's dreams of becoming a professional soccer player, it did help her to focus more on other things and she credits it for her being near the top of her class.
"It made me focus on school and academics more and I'm thankful for that," she said. "When I was younger I wanted to be a professional soccer player, but I've had to rethink things."
Now, Beranger is looking at a possible career in the medical field, something that her many trips to the hospital and countless tests helped inspire in her.
She's interested in biomedical engineering or pharmaceutical sciences or neuroscience as possible career paths and those things are all places where she could help someone with her condition make a better life for him or herself.
"Ever since this happened, I've been really interested in the medical field," she said. "I want to help people.
"I see people so much worse than me and I want to help them however I can," Beranger continues.
With college on the horizon, Beranger has a number of options on her plate, but one that has leaped to the front of the field is Northeastern University in Boston, Mass. She visited the school recently and fell in love with the campus.
And she notes that her parents weren't too disappointed either, since it's a bit closer to home than some of the other schools she has been looking at.
"It's really got a good pharmacy major," Beranger said. "It's a six-year Doctor of Pharmacy. I really hope I get in there."
Like many kids her age, Beranger is looking toward the future, but she continues to look back on the winding road that got her to where she is now. And her perspective on that road has changed over the last few years.
"I don't look at it as a bad thing anymore," she said. "I used to, but I don't anymore."
And with that simple change of philosophy, what was a long and winding road of life has turned in to a highway toward bigger and better things.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-3126