Attacking Addison’s; Teacher struggles with rare disease

Mac Sills

Students enter the room on a typical school day afternoon, and its business as usual in room W117. Their voices fill the room as they recite lines from the tragic play Antigone; their teacher explains the hidden meanings in the text every few lines.

Struggling daily with Addison’s disease, Mrs. Kim Copeland continues to teach sophomore English.
“I figured out I had Addison’s after a lot of tests,” Mrs. Copeland said. “It took three plus years. It took several blood tests, but finally the right blood test came along.”

Addison’s disease is defined as an endocrine disorder resulting in decreased hormone production from the adrenal gland. This disease is rare; according to raredisease.org, there are less than 200,000 cases each year in the United States.

“Headache, nausea, and dizziness are all symptoms of low cortisol that I deal with a lot,” Mrs. Copeland said. “I try to deal with the small symptoms on my own, but if it gets bad, then I take more medicine to make up for it.”

The hormones most affected by this are cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol plays a main role in helping the body respond to stress. Aldosterone helps to regulate blood pressure throughout the body. Without these hormones, certain restrictions must be set on the body.

“Her body can’t make steroids for her,” Mrs. Copeland’s son, Dallas Copeland, said. “Things we think are normal, like running a mile or switching from hot to cold temperatures, mom can’t do that.”

The most common way of treating Addison’s is through prescription pills. However, this wasn’t working for Mrs. Copeland. Her next method of treatment was an insulin pump, which she fills with medication prescribed by her doctor.

“We tried an experimental method of treatment which was the insulin pump.” Mrs. Copeland said. “I have the best quality of life I’ve had in a while.”

She needs doctor permission to have the medication for the pump prescribed because it isn’t approved in the United States. Everything comes out of her pocket since it isn’t covered by insurance, and she mixes everything up by hand for the pump.

“The biggest fear I have is a doctor saying no and not prescribing me the medicine,” Mrs. Copeland said. “Without it, I wouldn’t be able to do the things I can now.”

With Addison’s disease your body physically cannot handle stress. When put into difficult situations, the body naturally responds with hormones that trigger the fight or flight reaction. Since people with Addison’s can’t produce these hormones, they tend to pass out in stressful circumstances. Mrs. Copeland had fainting episodes before she switched to the pump.

“Before the pump, I used to blackout from stress,” Mrs. Copeland said. “One year, during a STAAR test, I fainted because of the extra demands which caused physical and mental stress. The kids were really good and understanding.”

Mrs. Copeland teaches English II and Advanced English II. She told her students at the beginning of the year that she had Addison’s disease, many of them had never heard of the disease before. The pump she uses now allows her to be more engaged with students and provides more relief to her symptoms.

“Mrs. Copeland uses the whole 45 minutes of class time to constantly prepare us for the next level of English,” sophomore Kasey Barrett said. “She is one of my favorite teachers, and I constantly find myself becoming better the longer she teaches me.”

Addison’s disease affects the entire family, not just Mrs. Copeland. Her husband, son, and daughter have to do more work around the house to compensate with the daily struggles Mrs. Copeland has with fatigue, a symptom of Addison’s. They are considerate of her condition and do whatever they can to help out.

“I don’t think of it as a bad thing,” Mrs. Copeland said. “It’s just something your dealt. I feel like my family suffers more than I do because my kids have to say, ‘Mom can’t do that.’”