Vermont Woman Goes "Miles for Migraine"


Every morning, when Katie MacDonald opens her eyes, she has a migraine. And not just a headache. There’s a cascade of other symptoms – debilitating body aches, brain fog and fatigue. After several hours, the symptoms fade, but only temporarily. Sometime in the afternoon, inevitably, they come crashing back.

 For the past 31 years, Katie has prevailed, in spite of the many limitations imposed by migraine disease.

It started when she was just 14, growing up in Swanton. For many years, the symptoms were episodic, but over the past decade her disease has become chronic.

Treatments for migraine are limited, in part because of lack of funding for headache fellowship programs and research. Katie, whose physician is UVM Medical Center neurologist Robert Shapiro, has tried a number of drugs to mitigate her symptoms, all with varying degrees of success. In addition, she  relies on what she calls her “tool box” to help get her through her days. She rests as much as her job allows, eats healthfully and walks daily. There are times when she is sad about what the disease has taken from her, but she is also grateful for the joys she is able to experience and the degree of functioning she has been able to achieve.

A big part of her ability to function is related to her job as Director of Operations with Miles for Migraine, a national advocacy organization based in Pennsylvania that she works with from her home in Vermont. Part of her work focuses on the stigma surrounding migraine. “This is a disease,” she says. “It’s not something you get just because you lack willpower. There’s a lot of shame around it.”

Over the past several years, she has worked closely with Dr. Shapiro on migraine advocacy, a big part of which is the Migraine for Miles event, which takes place in cities where the local hospitals have a headache fellowship program. This year the UVM Medical Center Headache Clinic will again be the beneficiary of the event’s fundraising.  One of the goals of the fundraising is to increase the number of headache specialists in the country. There are currently only 561 headache specialists for the 40,000,000 people in this country who have migraine.

As one of his patients and a fellow advocate, Katie has high praise for Dr. Shapiro. “He’s amazing,” she says. “He’s an excellent headache specialist, and he’s an incredible advocate. He’s been a great role model for me, and I’m so grateful he’s my physician.”

And for every day that, despite the limitations imposed upon her by this disease, she is grateful for what she is able to accomplish, both personally and professionally. “Someday, there will be a cure. Whether it’s in my lifetime or not – that’s what I’m working towards.”

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