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'Friendly' Rochester aids patient's recovery

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'Friendly' Rochester aids patient's recovery

5/12/2008 8:39:19 AM


By Jeff Hansel

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN


Rebecca Sibley only lives in Rochester a few days a year.


She considers it almost a second home. "We have found friends. We go to Trinity Presbyterian Church in Rochester," she said.


She comes to Rochester for medical care, like thousands of other temporary residents from across the country who stay in Rochester a day, a week or, sometimes, many months.


The first few times Sibley came to Rochester, she seemed to always meet someone with symptoms similar to her own.


Sibley, now of Orangeburg, S.C., had become overpowered by depression that changed her once joy-filled life in Mississippi.


Getting a diagnosis took a long time. But she finally learned she had Cushing's syndrome, an illness caused by excessive cortisol hormone in the blood, according to cushings-help.com.


Sibley's illness was caused by a tumor on her pituitary gland.


"Just my faith and the Lord has seen me through everything. It hasn't been an easy road. But I feel like God has helped me through each hoop. And, with that, I feel like God has used me to help other people," Sibley said.


In 1986, she noticed weight gain, sleep loss and a sudden personality change. Her life spiraled downward. She recorded 35 symptoms in a journal she kept to monitor patterns in her illness.


The symptoms included low self-esteem, decreased appetite, constant weight gain, decreased sex drive, uncontrolled irritability, crying and slowed memory. As a registered dietitian, the weight gain embarrassed Sibley when she went to work back home. Some coworkers asked why she was letting herself go, and she worried about what patients thought.


"I monitored my caloric intake and knew that I was consuming fewer calories than was nutritionally safe," she wrote. Yet the weight gain continued.


Tests for a chemical imbalance suggested she had a tumor.


That led Sibley and her husband to Minnesota and what, at the time, was Connolly's Downtown Motel in Rochester. Today, Sibley estimates she's been to Rochester 25 times or more and she expects to continue receiving treatment here.


She wants to raise awareness of Cushing's syndrome. But she also wants the people of Rochester to know the part they play in the recovery for the thousands of patients who call Rochester home for brief periods of their lives.


"That's the thing about Rochester, is it is such a friendly town for the stranger to come into," she said.


The test she took at Mayo Clinic was experimental. Today, it's standard protocol.


She had a tumor removed and her weight quickly began to drop. Her symptoms returned, but removal of a second tumor left her feeling herself again.


Sibley takes growth hormones, the kind baseball stars have been accused of taking illegally.


"I think the hardest thing for people when they can't find an answer is not having a name put on something when you know something is wrong," Sibley said.


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