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I thought I had eye problem until lab tests revealed real issue -Hyperthyroidism survivor

The thyroid gland is an endocrine structure located in the neck. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it produces hormones that play a key role in regulating the metabolic rate of the body. However, when this gland malfunctions, it can lead to thyroid diseases such as goitre, hyperthyroidism, and hypothyroidism.

Today, Iya Magazine presents the story of Iruoma Ofortube, who battled with hyperthyroidism for six years.

Iruoma hails from Nnewi, in Anambra State. She is a professional insurance consultant with over 15 years of experience. In 2006, she began experiencing irregular menstruation and hormonal imbalance, which affected her ability to conceive the number of children she wished to have.

Apart from the infertility issue, she was always feeling restless, irritable, anxious, and tired. While narrating her experience, she said,

“I used to be a very calm, respectful, and jovial woman, but suddenly, my attitude changed. I became easily irritated and very overbearing. At my office, I was always shouting at people over minor issues. Even at home, my children had a large share of my unusual behavior.

I started losing weight drastically, and my eyes began to bulge out. While all these were happening, I felt it was due to stress, so I ignored those symptoms. It got so bad that I couldn’t sit at a place for 30 minutes during meeting sessions at the office.

So, one day, my boss started questioning my weird behaviour. He also talked about my eyes that were bulging out and advised me to visit his eye consultant. When I got there, the eye specialist didn’t even examine my eyes. She just asked me to run a thyroid test, and the results showed that I had hyperthyroidism.”

Iruoma was given medications to balance her hormones, but her condition didn’t improve because she wasn’t seeing the right specialist. She said that at some point, she stopped taking the prescribed drugs and resorted to natural supplements. Yet, there was no improvement.

I visited an eye specialist. She didn’t examine my eyes. She just asked me to run a thyroid test, and the results showed that I had hyperthyroidism

From her bulging eyes, her neck started swelling, and it became obvious that she had goitre. She also experienced swollen legs and palpitations.

Good and bad foods for the thyroid

“When my neck started swelling, my friend suggested that I visit a specialist hospital in Enugu State. Initially, I was procrastinating the trip because of my job. One morning, when she came to my house, she couldn’t even recognize me. I had lost so much weight, and my eyes were red and bulged out.

“When she saw how bad my condition was, she quickly encouraged me to abandon every engagement and travel to Enugu. She also called the doctor to book an appointment for me. When I got to Enugu, the doctor addressed all I was yearning to understand about my condition and allayed all my fears. I was sent for many laboratory investigations because my condition was already complicated with some heart issues, which caused the swollen legs.

“It took four months before my hormonal values went back to normal. Then my doctor advised me to go for surgery, which was done successfully on October 25, 2012.”

Thyroid Awareness & Support Initiative (TASI)
Three days after the surgery, while Iruoma was still recovering in the hospital, she said she had an encounter that inspired the birth of a non-governmental organization that supports people who are experiencing thyroid diseases.

Despite the prevalence of thyroid cancer, some hospitals and laboratories doN’t have the facilities to run thyroid function tests, and there’s a shortage of specialists

“I was still in the hospital when a voice said to me, ‘I saved your life; now it’s your turn to save others.’ It was very loud, and I was scared at first. When I narrated the experience to my sister, she said it was the voice of God that I heard. However, I wasn’t very sure about it. After that experience, I started having dreams where I saw myself helping people. The challenge was that I didn’t know how to make it a reality.”

When Iruoma shared her vision to start a foundation that handles thyroid issues, some people tried to discourage her from embarking on the project. However, she kept researching the necessary requirements. So, in August 2017, the Thyroid Awareness & Support Initiative (TASI) was officially registered.

The primary objective of the organization is to promote optimal thyroid health by creating awareness about the prevention, intervention, and management of thyroid disease and other health-related issues.

The primary objective of TASI is to promote optimal thyroid health by creating awareness 

Since its inception, the organization has built a support group of more than 300 people and leveraged various media to create awareness.

“We often organize medical outreaches. During such programs, we attend to people who need surgical interventions not just for the thyroid gland but also for breast lumps, fibroid, hernia, lipoma, etc.

“Everyone is aware of the high cost of medical surgery. So, we collaborate with surgeons and other medical experts to reduce the cost of those surgeries.

Iruoma in pink T-shirt (back row standing) with some of the 2023 surgery beneficiaries

“As an organization, we also raise funds that are used for medical expenses. In 2021, we sponsored 27 surgeries, which were done in four days.

“Last year, we did 40 successful surgeries in nine days. All of the surgeons who volunteer for these outreaches consider it a way of giving back to society.

“Also, we are affiliated with different hospitals across the nation, and so far, 189 surgeries have been done successfully with no record of casualties or complications.”

Stigmatization and criticisms
Recognizing the emotional impact of stigma, Iruoma also offers psychosocial assistance to help individuals navigate mental health challenges associated with thyroid diseases.

When asked if she experienced stigma during her illness, Iruoma said, “I was very skinny, and people made caricatures of me because of my bulgy red eyes. Some people even said I was suffering from HIV because of my physical appearance.

“Due to the mockery and stigmatization, I became depressed and wanted to end it all through suicide. But mercy said ‘No!’ The only support system I had was my husband, a few friends, and family.”

so far, 189 surgeries have been done successfully through TASI, with no record of casualties or complications

Awards and self-fulfilling moments
According to Denzel Washington, “Man gives you the award, but God gives you the reward.” Iruoma said her organization has earned both local and international awards and recognitions for the good work as done in different communities.

Overall, the organization aims to empower recipients to reconstruct their lives, fostering resilience for a stable future.

When asked about her self-fulfilling moments, she said, “Every support we have rendered has always brought me joy. There was a day a lady called me in the middle of the night. When I picked up the call, she started crying and narrating how everyone was mocking her because she had developed goitre and was looking ugly. What she couldn’t bear was her husband’s lack of understanding. He stopped attending social functions with her and also stopped sharing the same room with her.

people made caricatures of me because of my bulgy red eyes. Some people even said I was suffering from HIV

“All these things made her depressed and confused. So, someone gave her my contact and that was why she called me late at night. I tried to encourage her and also booked an appointment with her. After the doctors saw her, she was given proper treatment, and everything went successfully.

“My joy is that the same lady who had lost her self-esteem and zeal for life became a happy and fulfilled woman again.”

Challenges
When Iruoma was asked about the challenges of the organization, she said lack of funds has been a limiting factor. According to her, most people experiencing thyroid issues are of low-income status. So, the foundation relies on donations and sponsorship by philanthropists to pay for medical treatments and surgeries.

most people experiencing thyroid issues are of low-income status

Another challenge she pointed out is the government’s inadequate attention to thyroid health. Despite the prevalence of thyroid cancer, some hospitals and laboratories do not have the facilities to run thyroid function tests, and there’s a shortage of specialists in this field.

According to research from the American Thyroid Association, one out of every four women is at risk of developing thyroid disease. Thyroid issues also pose a serious health threat, particularly during childbirth, as they can lead to heart failure and contribute to maternal mortality. The lack of awareness and oversight surrounding thyroid issues has resulted in numerous deaths among women.

Thyroid issues pose a serious health threat, particularly during childbirth, as they can lead to heart failure

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