When Jill Morton’s finger nails started to turn blue, she knew something was wrong.
It began when she was in her 20s. Her nails would suddenly turn blue and she had several small strokes. She also felt faint when climbing up stairs or an incline.
For nearly 15 years, the Victoria resident had odd symptoms but was never diagnosed, despite a series of tests that all came back negative.
After several advancements in technology in 1991, Morton finally had the answer she had been searching for, for more than a decade.
She was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, a rare debilitating disease in which high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs can lead to heart failure. It begins when arteries in the lungs become blocked, making it difficult for blood to flow to the lungs.
Pulmonary hypertension can be a result of lupus, use of street drugs, blood clots, or in Morton’s case, from an atrial septal defect or a hole in her heart that she’s had since birth.
“I was kind of in shock. On the other hand I felt really vindicated because it had taken me 15 years to get a diagnosis,” said Morton. “During that 15 years, I’d been told by a lot of doctors, most of them were males, that I was crazy. There was nothing wrong with me, it was all in my head, that I needed to see a psychiatrist.”
The diagnosis, more than 20 years ago, has changed the now 58-year-old’s life dramatically.
Her husband left after being unable to cope with the condition and her daughter has become her primary caregiver.
“She grows up waiting for her mommy to die,” Morton said, adding that although she doesn’t need an oxygen tank, she needs to conserve her energy as much as possible.
Now, Morton is part of a support group on Vancouver Island where a dozen women come together and discuss the latest treatments for the condition.
November is pulmonary hypertension month and Morton hopes sharing her story will bring attention to the condition that even some doctors are not aware of.
“If you’re short of breath on inclines and stairs or fatigued or you’re noticing that your lips and fingernails turn blue, that’s well past the time when you should be asking for a referral,” she said.
The group meets once a month in Duncan and Langford on the fourth Wednesday. The next meeting is Nov. 25 at the Whitespot in Langford. Participants are encouraged to wear purple as a show of support.