- Posted Thursday October 10, 2013
Jennifer Smestad overcame Tourette Syndrome; now advocates for neurological research
PHOENIX, Ariz. - Oct. 10, 2013 - Jennifer
Smestad wasn't always the poised, well-spoken young woman who
earlier this year won the Miss Arizona competition.
As a child growing up in Gilbert, Arizona, Jennifer was hobbled by an unknown disorder that left her hurt and frustrated, and at times unable to function.
Her head would twitch violently, causing neck pains. She would occasionally strike herself unconsciously. Sometimes she would make "weird, high-pitched noises."
An associated obsessive-compulsive disorder made it difficult to walk up stairs, since each step had to be perfect. And she found it difficult to write, repeatedly erasing and starting over again.
Her mother relentlessly researched what might be wrong with her, seemingly online 24/7 and flying to distant cities to try to find a cure.
"I had extreme anxiety, ending up at the hospital at times," Jennifer recalled. "I was constantly sore, and sometimes I just wanted to just stay in bed all day."
After years of uncertainty, at age 10 she was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, which causes involuntary movements and vocalizations. Following years of counseling, medication and finally acupuncture, by age 15 Jennifer was free of symptoms.
"It was such a relief when I was diagnosed," said Jennifer, who plans to continue her college education, specializing in communications and nutrition in hopes of someday landing a media position, specializing in health and fitness.
Jennifer has tremendous empathy for the children and parents of young patients seeking help from the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) for their own undiagnosed conditions. As a contestant in Miss Arizona and Miss America, Jennifer has championed the cause of childhood neurological disorders.
Now, she is supporting TGen's Center for Rare Childhood Disorders, which is helping other children overcome the kind of difficulties she faced as a child.
Jennifer hopes to appear at TGen functions to share her story and provide hope for others, including a half-marathon as part of TGen's "Run for Kids" Jan. 19 during the P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon, which for the first time includes TGen as an official charity.
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Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a Phoenix, Arizona-based non-profit organization dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life changing results. TGen is focused on helping patients with cancer, neurological disorders and diabetes, through cutting edge translational research (the process of rapidly moving research towards patient benefit). TGen physicians and scientists work to unravel the genetic components of both common and rare complex diseases in adults and children. Working with collaborators in the scientific and medical communities literally worldwide, TGen makes a substantial contribution to help our patients through efficiency and effectiveness of the translational process. For more information, visit:www.tgen.org.
TGen Senior Science Writer