This blog was created for Francie Fitzgerald, a twenty-year-old girl battling a rare, chronic disease. The purpose of this project is so that she has a way to keep the friends and family she cares about most in life updated on her health status and general whereabouts. Francie grew up happy,  healthy, and highly-achievement oriented for the majority of her life. In high school, as a tri-Varsity and club athlete at a competitive private school outside of Philadelphia, PA Francie was recruited and committed during her sophomore year to play D1 field hockey at Dartmouth College. Prior to this time Francie had suffered from seemingly unmeaningful yearly bouts of Strep throat infections, contraction of Lyme in 2005, a significant incidences of broken/fractured/bruised/torn bones/tendons/ligaments, and two sport-related concussions in 2008 and 2009- but it was not long after her 2010 spring semester ended that the unfortunate slew of events began to unravel. That summer Francie participated in an exchange program with the Herschel Girl’s School in Cape Town, South Africa. While abroad she enjoyed touring with the field hockey team and running cross country in regional meets, as well as spending time with incredibly generous friends, who soon felt like family. After soaking in the excitement of the World Cup games, about half way through her stay Francie was infected with Epstein Barr Virus and fell ill with “Grandular Fever,” or the infamous American version, “Mononucleosis.” Francie returned home and despite following the doctors orders for strict bed rest, she has never returned to health since. Further, over the years since that time her condition has become degenerative and debilitating.

Francie originally spent three months searching for a proper diagnosis, which she didn’t receive until she saw the head of infectious disease at John Hopkins University Hospital. The physician specialized in misdiagnoses and very quickly recognized and pinpointed that Francie had acquired a condition known as “POTS”- Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. This form of Dysautonomia, a chronic malfunction of her Autonomic Nervous System, affects nearly every bodily function below conscious control within her.  Francie therefore experienced a plethora of wide-ranging and far-spread symptoms including, syncope, migraines, postural tachycardia, hypotension, and fatigue. She was referred to a POTS cardiologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) who experimented with various drugs and dosages over the next months, eventually settling on a Beta-Blocker and stimulant to compensate for her symptoms.

The medications stabilized Francie enough to begin attending the Hill School with a modified school schedule. During this time Francie participated in an intense daily physical therapy to work on conditioning and nerve desensitization. Enjoying being back in academically rigorous courses and befriending new people she was lulled into a bit of complacency and did her best to ignore her unexplainable deterioration. Despite the deterioration of ‎her health, Francie’s perseverance shone bright as she finished high school with a stellar academic record, proudly gained early decision admittance to the University of Notre Dame, and based on her exceptionally high SAT scores, was offered a spot in the University’s Glynn Family Honors Program. Francie attempted diving in with both feet, relishing in Our Lady’s University, making fast friends, including being asked to take the Eucharistic gifts with Hannah Smith to University President Fr. John Jenkins at the Orientation Mass, and embarking on a bitter-sweet journey that has included meeting and becoming friends with a couple dozen of the greatest young people this world has to offer, all of whom Francie has cherished her friendship and all of whom have supported Francie immensely in her horrific journey.

Many related and unrelated symptoms began to surface- the most difficult being chronic nerve/muscle/bone pain, mitochondrial damage and myopathy, chronic fatigue syndrome, chromic Lyme, maybe chronic EBV virus, gastrointestinal dysmotility, hypermobility and connective tissue laxity/potentially Ehlers Danlos syndrome, joint swelling and reddening consistent with autoimmune disease markers for diseases such as Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis, elevated Cam Kinase autoantibodies indicative of an autoimmune response at the basal ganglia and accompanying OCD behaviors, elevated CD20+ immune cells and SED rate, IgG subclass 3 deficiency with consistently and significantly elevated IgM, genetic mutations in her mitochondrial and nuclear genome along with compromising mutations indicated by a Detoxigenomic Profile, albeit Penn genetics determined mostly “variants of unknown significance”, elevated levels of voltage gated calcium channels antibodies, sweat gland biopsy revealed decreed innervation of autonomic nerves, all this among other various things.

The complexity and ‎variety of her disorder has been staggering. She has seen at least ten neurologists, four rheumatologists, an endocrinologist, eight orthopedics, six gastroenterologists, a cardiologist, five geneticists, and numerous integrative/functional doctors. She has had biopsies, MRIs, CAT scans, urine analyses, stool sample testing, and over 150 blood tests at CHOP, Penn, Hopkins, Toledo Clinic, Mayo, etc. She does not like taking artificial drugs, as she recognizes how harmful they are in disabling the natural healing mechanisms of the body and resulting in mineral and vitamin deficiencies, as well as unwanted and uncomfortable side effects. She wants to find relief, and ultimately a cure, but has tried a plethora of pain medications with no abatement. At the suggestion of some of the doctors , and as warranted by emergent food allergies, she has been on a strict vegan diet, lactose-free, gluten-free for a number of years. She has tried plasmapheresis and IVIG treatments at Hahnemann Hospital to attempt to thwart the autoimmune aspect, but nothing has offered reprieve from her constant suffering. At the encouragement of friends, profession and “lay-persons” alike, Francie plans to go to the Paracelsus Klinik of Dr. Rau outside of Zurich, Switzerland in hopes of gaining knowledge and receiving treatments for relief as none has been available through her care in the States to date. Francie’s resiliency has been remarkable, but she insists it has only been made possible for her to fight this long and hard because of faith in God’s goodness and the unending care and concern from dedicated family and friends. She could never have gotten this far without you, so for that we thank you from the bottom of our heart.

-Kathy  and Ward Fitzgerald*

The Hill School Graduation, May 2013
The Hill School Graduation, May 2013
*also known to Francie as “Mommy” and “Daddy”

19 thoughts on “About

    1. Thank you very much! I really appreciate all the encouragement I’ve received from everyone, it always makes the battle worth fighting. Please send my love to the whole Hill family


  1. Dear Francie,
    Wow! A friend of my husband forwarded your blog to me and all I can say is Wow. At this time, 2 of my 5 children are diagnosed with POTS and another child has neurally mediated syncope (dysautonomia). We probably have been seeing the same doctors at CHOP. Although my kids have walked some of the same miles, it truly sounds like you have had a tougher time. My oldest daughter was diagnosed with this while in Sophomore year and my oldest son in freshman year both in prep schools – both at age 15. My two oldest children have had related diagnosis: Ehlers Danlos, gastroparesis, IBS, amplified Pain Syndrome, Chronic Fatigue, migraines, EOS, gall bladder issues, autoimmune hepatitis, etc. On the positive side and hope for you, my oldest daughter (age 19) is doing incredibly better right now (fingers crossed). She is a sophomore at College and attending full time! We have attributed her improvement to figuring out triggers in her diet (possible mast cell issues – taking allergy medicine), exercise and seeing an osteopath.
    I wanted to send out well wishes and let you know if you need to talk or compare any notes to help both parties, we are more then willing. I know how difficult this journey has been for us and it seems like yours has been much worse. Sending our prayers, hopes and well wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My Dear Girl – My heart is with you always. Then wings of the angels will surround you and keep you safe until you return. Love – Your Mom-Mom

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Francie,
    Thank you for putting together this blog to keep those who care about you updated on your progress. Being able to self advocate is a wonderful quality, and one that I wish for my children. You have this ability in spades! The blog is super. Just another sign of your intelligence, inherent sunny nature, and fortitude. I don’t know where you find the energy. Keep up the good fight! We’re praying for you.
    All our love, The Reusches

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Francie, I’m so glad your mother sent me your blog post.
    Please don’t ever “submit control” because you are your strongest advocate despite the excellent care you are receiving. And you are so strong and smart!
    You are an inspiration to others with your positive attitude. Remember, what you give out to the universe comes back to you. You are sending out positive energy that will surely come back to you in positive ways and that energy is helping all of us following you.
    You are in our prayers and our own positive energy. We can’t wait to see you home and healthy! Enjoy all those you meet on your journey to health and wellness.
    The Loftus Family

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Francie,
    This is Sharon, Connor’s mom. We are following your blog and thankful to be able to watch your progress. We pray that Jesus will be walking with you and your family every step of the way. We look forward to the day that you will be back at Our Lady’s campus.
    Sharon and family

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Francie,
    I too, am a big fan of Mr. Teddy Fitzgerald. I’m proud to say I was his skating teacher many, many years ago, but even better, I’ve gotten to know him recently as a really cool young man. My son, Skyler is lucky to play alongside him on the Jr. flyers. They are fantastic together on the ice, seemingly reading each other’s minds as they play. I have loved hearing the two boys talking in the car on the way to Iceline. Teddy is hilarious. I’m kinda sad he has his driver’s license now….. 😦
    I wanted you to know, because I know and love Teddy, because I know your parents are such loving, wonderful people, that you have been in my prayers. I pray too, as a mother, for your mother’s strength. I know nothing could be worse than not being able to help your child.
    Please know that so many people are praying and hoping for your health. Tomorrow the hockey team goes to Detroit for the Showcase. I will keep an eye out for your little brother. Hopefully lots of goals for Francie!!
    April Silverstein

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Francie, Kathy & Ward, Thoughts and many prayers for healing, continued strength, peace and comfort as you continue to fight this battle. We will keep up with you through your blog and know we are right there beside you in spirit. You know where to find us if there is something we can do for you. Know a candle will be lit at the Grotto for you the next time we are at ND. XO – The Sulentic Family

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Francie,

    We read your blog and were moved by your strength and grace. You have such an upbeat, loving spirit. We will continue to follow your journey back to health and keep you in our prayers.

    As Walt Whitman said, “Keep your face always toward the sunshine – and shadows will fall behind you.”

    The Stavetski Family

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reading your blog I can’t help but notice your extreme privilege. Advantages that most others do not have. Be grateful for that, give back when you can. Give more than you take.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Francie,

    Good morning.

    This is John Wilhide, a dear friend of your Dad’s in Baltimore.

    You are one tough cookie and an inspiration to all.

    The world of advanced medicine and the Good Lord are by your side.

    I heard you had the opportunity to meet Pope Francis.

    What a true blessing.

    Hang in there.

    We think about you daily.

    God Bless.

    John Erica, Mason, Laird and the entire CBRE Baltimore family

    Liked by 1 person

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