Published January 24, 2019


NORTH READING —Imagine for a moment that you are a perfectly healthy college student and runner who is used to being on the go, full of energy.

Then one day, you are just not yourself. You feel so exhausted. Overcome by extreme fatigue and other ailments, you visit your college infirmary and are told you have the flu, so it’s best if you lay low for a few days. Just stay in your dorm so you do not to pass it on to other students and wait it out.

Soon, your fatigue is so extreme you can’t stand on your own and your roommates have to push you around the dorm on a desk chair with wheels. They’re getting worried and call your parents because you are not getting better.

“Experiencing an adrenal crisis”

While many patients who are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases go years trying to find out what is wrong with them, Laura McBride never realized anything was wrong until she started to experience an “adrenal crisis” about one week before she went into the hospital with what had been mistaken for the flu. It would be about another month before a diagnosis was found.

“I started feeling like I had the flu. Eventually, I felt like I was going to pass out from this. I went to the health services at my college. I was told the flu takes X amount of days and we think you definitely have it and we want you to stay in your dorm so you don’t infect others.”

THE McBRIDE FAMILY rallies around Laura (second from right) at her event to raise awareness of Addison’s disease and to fund ongoing research into new treatments at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. From left: her sister, Caroline McBride, her parents, David and Lorri McBride, and at far right, her sister’s fiance, Bryan Wilcox. (Patti Cameron Photo)

“I got progressively worse over two or three days. It got to the point where I couldn’t stand up… I had to be wheeled on a desk chair. At that point my roommate called my mom and said you have to come get her. She is not getting any better,” she recalled.

So the 2011 North Reading High School graduate went home from Holy Cross to her parents house in North Reading. When she visited her family doctor the next day she was told: “You need to go to the hospital now!” No one knew what was wrong with her but they knew they needed to find out.

“My blood pressure was super low and my electrolytes were shot. I had no sodium. I was severely dehydrated. Initially they thought I had a stomach bug. They pumped me up with medicines and vitamins and on paper I looked fine so they sent me home,” she said.

She still wasn’t getting any better. “I think it was worse for my family than it was for me because I had a really high fever so I was so out of it. I don’t remember a bunch of it.”

While Laura may not remember, her mother Lorri certainly does. They went from Winchester Hospital to Mass. General, where they still did not get a diagnosis.

Lorri recalls the day her daughter was being discharged from Mass. General she received a call from the hospitalist at Winchester. He had run one more blood test, even though he was no longer treating Laura, and told them she had tested positive for Addison’s disease. Lorri credits Dr. Chonda with saving her daughter’s life.

That was in 2014. Flash forward nearly five years and Laura’s symptoms are under control, thanks to her doctor at Brigham and Women’s, Anand Vaidya. Nearly 26, she is running again and on track to obtaining her master’s degree in speech pathology from Northeastern University in May. And she is currently on a mission to spread awareness about Addison’s disease and raise funds for ongoing research into adrenal diseases at the lab run by Dr. Vaidya, at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Today, she feels more healthy than ever.

“I would say now I am more healthy than I was before because you have to be so sensitive to what your body needs. I definitely try to work out more. A regular workout, but everything in moderation,” Laura says.

She adds that her diet has improved as well and she is “really careful” about what she eats. “I think a lot of people get autoimmune disease because of processed foods and toxins in the environment. I try to be good about it but being 25, it’s hard. Obviously, I can’t have an excess of alcohol, which is good. It is hard when I am the age that I am and I am around all these people who don’t have to worry about their bodies like I do.” When she tells others about the disease they have no idea what she is talking about.

So she is trying to change that.

“Addison’s disease is a rare autoimmune disease whereby my own immune system attacks my adrenal glands and destroys them,” Laura explained in a letter given to friends attending her fundraiser last week at the Horseshoe Grille. “The adrenal glands are two small hormone producing organs that are located on top of our kidneys. They produce vital hormones that help maintain our blood pressure, but also help maintain the normal functioning of nearly every organ in the body. We need adrenal hormones to live; without them, we would get progressively ill and ultimately could not survive.”

“The symptoms of undiagnosed Addison’s Disease include: fatigue, depression, low blood pressure, intense salt cravings, low appetite, weight loss, darkening of the skin, and many more. I had many of these symptoms for years, progressively getting worse and worse, and ultimately interrupting my studies at school and my running,” she explained. “Like many people with Addison’s disease, my condition went undiagnosed until I became gravely ill in 2014 and was admitted to the hospital with multi-organ dysfunction. Since my diagnosis, I receive daily treatment with adrenal hormones, which have now been customized by my doctors to my lifestyle. I am now able to function normally and I have my life back.”

About 85 friends and family attended her fundraiser at the Horseshoe where they were served appetizers and drinks, took chances on raffles and participated in a trivia contest based on the Addison’s disease facts they learned from her letter. Can you name a famous president who had Addison’s disease? If you guessed JFK, you’d be correct. Did you know that only 1 in 100,000 people are diagnosed with Addison’s disease? Or that it was lethal until the 1950s prior to the discovery of replacement hormones? Now you do. And that is her point.

Laura wanted her guests to leave her fundraiser knowing what Addison’s disease is “so that others who may have symptoms are more knowledgeable on the issue, and can either self-advocate for testing, which is very simple, or be someone else’s advocate,” she said.

She also hopes to raise funds for additional adrenal research so that one day the advances now seen in the treatment for diabetes could one day be realized for Addison’s disease. Toward that end, her supporters contributed $2,500 toward her first-ever fundraiser for any cause, she said. But she could not have done it without the support of her family and close friends, including her sister Caroline McBride and Caroline’s fiance, Bryan Wilcox, and her parents, David and Lorri McBride.

Those interested in helping her cause can send a donation with a note that it is intended for “Adrenal Fund – Laura McBride” and mail it to: Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Attention – Erica Wilcoxson, Director of Development, 116 Huntington Avenue – 3rd Floor, Boston, MA 02116.