Rhi­anna in the race for a cure

For­mer swim­mer ded­i­cates life to fight­ing crip­pling con­di­tion

Sunday Tasmanian - - News - REON SUDDABY

AT the age of 12, Rhi­anna Love­grove had the world in her hands.

Years of 4am starts for train­ing were be­gin­ning to pay off for the tal­ented swim­mer, who had won a se­ries of state ti­tles and was al­ready set­ting her sights on the Olympics.

Then she got sick – and no one could tell her what was wrong.

“I started feel­ing re­ally ill, su­per-fa­tigued, and couldn’t keep up with train­ing when I was usu­ally front of the line,” she said.

What fol­lowed was months of vis­its to dif­fer­ent doc­tors, a stay at the Royal Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal in Mel­bourne, and a bar­rage of pro­ce­dures and blood tests.

None of it helped – Rhi­anna con­tin­ued to feel dizzy, tired, short of breath, and un­able to sit up­right with­out feel­ing ill.

A break­through only came when, as a 14-year-old, the plucky Tas­ma­nian took it upon her­self to email a doc­tor in the United States, seek­ing an­swers.

As spe­cial­ists fi­nally closed in on a di­ag­no­sis, Rhi­anna un­der­went a tilt ta­ble test, in which the pa­tient is strapped to a ta­ble and tilted to see how they han­dle grav- ity and how pressure re­acts.

Most peo­ple can stay on the ta­ble for about 45 min­utes. Rhi­anna passed out im­me­di­ately and for a split sec­ond, her heart stopped.

Fi­nally, she was di­ag­nosed with the lit­tle-known pos­tural or­tho­static tachy­car­dia syn­drome, or POTS, bring­ing her promis­ing swim­ming ca­reer to a sud­den end. Now aged 20, Rhi­anna has used the set­back to fuel fresh am­bi­tions – she’s study­ing a bach­e­lor of psy­cho­log­i­cal sci­ence at Gold Coast’s Bond Univer­sity, and hopes to use her ex­pe­ri­ence to help oth­ers with sim­i­lar health prob­lems to her own.

“From my ex­pe­ri­ence with my own health ail­ment … I want to work in a hospi­tal their blood one day as part of a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary team, as a psy­chol­o­gist look­ing af­ter peo­ple with chronic ill­nesses, with dis­or­ders and stuff like that.”

Rhi­anna said POTS was more com­mon than most peo­ple re­alised, de­spite not be­ing well known.

“It’s ac­tu­ally very preva­lent, es­pe­cially in Amer­ica, but not many peo­ple know about it. Es­sen­tially, they don’t re­ally know what causes it, but it’s pri­mar­ily oc­cur­ring in girls and it’s this idea that the blood pressure is low­ered, and the heart rate goes up re­ally high when you stand or sit up, there’s an ar­ray of symp­toms that come along with it, and it’s hor­ri­ble, but I guess I have to live with that every day.”

For Rhi­anna, liv­ing with it means be­ing strin­gent with man­ag­ing her time and hav­ing to reg­u­larly lie down for rests. She’s gone from train­ing nine times a week to be­ing un­able to run, in­stead re­sort­ing to ex­er­cises while sit­ting down.

“There’s been times when I’ve cried … and the hard­est bit has been see­ing ev­ery­one else be fine, and it’s not that you’d ever wish any­thing bad on any­one else, but it’s just like why me?

“It is tough, and it has been tough, es­pe­cially when I was first di­ag­nosed, be­cause be­ing 12 years old and hav­ing your dreams ripped away from you is pretty tough. But it could be worse, and there are peo­ple that have it worse off, it’s the best way to think of it be­cause you can’t change it … maybe one day.”

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