At age 36, Shalon Whitgob of El Dorado Hills, Calif. is living a cure after a lifetime of pain and anguish related to a facial Arteriovenous Malformation, or AVM as it is often referred. Although she wasn’t diagnosed until age 7, Whitgob’s mother knew something was seriously wrong when her daughter was just a little more than two months old. Whitgob awakened from her sleep with a mouthful of blood. Multiple doctors and diagnoses later, Whitgob was told her AVM would only get worse as she aged, would become more unsightly, cause her more pain and could never be cured. Through the years, Whitgob was treated for the AVM through various embolization methods using coils and chemical agents. It provided only temporarily relief.
"My early doctors made it clear that I would have to deal with it the rest of my life and that I should be prepared for that," Whitgob said.
The bleeding episodes worsened over the years. There were many times Whitgob would awaken in the middle of the night covered in blood. She couldn't get on an airplane without knowing if or when the bleeding would occur while she was in the air and her mouth began to grow more swollen with each year.
Eventually, through her own Internet searches, Whitgob found Swedish Medical Center’s Vascular Malformation Center Director and world AVM expert, Wayne F.J. Yakes, M.D. Dr. Yakes greeted Whitgob with the reality that his unique, non-invasive and proprietary surgical AVM treatment came with risks, but also that hope for a cure was within reach.
Going forward, Whitgob boarded a plane for Swedish Medical Center once every four weeks for four years to receive Dr. Yakes’ pioneering ethyl alcohol injections in her face to begin the long journey toward an AVM cure. Most often, Whitgob maintained an outpatient status, only staying overnight at Swedish twice for complications. Dr. Yakes referred Whitgob to another surgeon to have the coils removed from her face and repair the scar damage she encountered through earlier attempts at temporary treatment. Today, however, she sees Dr. Yakes once every six months for "touch-up" injections that are moving her closer to a permanent fix.
"Dr. Yakes was always upfront that there could be some collateral damage related to the injections, but my quality of life has improved ten-fold since Dr. Yakes began treating me," Whitgob said. "I used to live in fear that the bleeding would start at any time – in my sleep, on a plane – and now I can relax and live my life."