Before heading to her Firestone High School commencement at E.J. Thomas Hall tonight, Abigail Ernst had to stop by and visit the person she believes got her to graduation: Dr. M. Cristina Victorio, her Akron Children’s neurologist.
“I honestly don’t think I would be here without her,” said Abby, 18.
Since age 12, Abby has suffered from severe migraine headaches. They began as abdominal migraines – severe stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Taking ibuprofen only created rebound headaches. Several viruses lead to consultation with Infectious Disease specialists, and then Abby found Dr. Victorio to help guide her through her migraine journey.
“Dr. Victorio is special,” said Abby’s mother, Elizabeth. “She listens to Abby and she respects Abby’s choices.”
A few years ago both Elizabeth and Abby had doubts that Abby would make it to graduation. They estimated that she missed 100 days of school over her 4 years of high school – days that would need to be spent in the dark of her bedroom, on her bed, suffering through the pain of a migraine.
“Tenth grade was horrific,” said Abby.
She missed a month of school that year, and celebrated her 16th birthday hospitalized. When she was in school, classmates might see her turn pale and lower her head to her desk – the telltale signs of an emerging migraine. Elizabeth and Abby’s father, Todd, considered moving her to an online high school.
But soon progress was made through a 3-week stay in a chronic pain rehab program offered through the Cleveland Clinic and, after other treatments failed, she began to receive infusions through Akron Children’s Headache Program, which is directed by Dr. Victorio.
Whenever a migraine comes on, Abby is able to bypass Akron Children’s ER and come directly to an infusion room in the NeuroDevelopmental Science Center. The room is dim and the staff knows the importance of a calm setting.
Dr. Victorio has encouraged Abby to stay active with her dance, which has been her passion. She has persevered not only through her headaches but several dance-related knee injuries that required surgery. She even choreographed her own dance performance to express her emotions about being a “survivor” of chronic migraines.
The bond between Abby and Dr. Victorio is undeniable.
“This is just one memory,” said Abby. “One day, I arrived for my appointment and Dr. Victorio saw me from a distance. She smiled at me and said, ‘That’s my Abby.’ Such a small gesture but that is just one of the reasons I hold her dear to my heart.”
As a senior, Abby has been averaging about 2 headaches a month, lasting about 3 days each. She needs just about 1 infusion a month, a great improvement in her quality of life.
She plans to attend Ohio University to study dance and exercise physiology. Her career goal is to earn her doctorate in physical therapy and work with children. She has been inspired by her volunteer work with physical therapist Kellie Lightfoot and Dance Unlimited, a dance program for Akron Children’s patients with special needs.
As Dr. Victorio gave Abby a parting hug, the tears flowed.
“We’re really proud of you,” Dr. Victorio said to Abby.
And with that Abby walked off to meet up with extended family for dinner at a favorite Mexican restaurant. Next, she would head downtown to join the rest of Firestone High School’s Class of 2018 in receiving their diplomas. They will hear inspiring words, smile for photos and then head off to make their mark in the world.