An Online Wellness Magazine produced by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

Not Looking Back

Weight and health issues left a young Texas teen with a bleak outlook, until a new doctor and a new plan got her on the right path

If you had asked 16-year-old Cheyenne Cameron two years ago about her goals for the future, she might have come up short on answers. She had gained weight, developed hypertension, was having almost daily migraines and struggled with depression and anxiety. She felt bad all the time and it was starting to affect her self-esteem and outlook on life. The normally upbeat and positive teenager became a shell of her old self.

If you ask her today about her goals, she’ll tell you she is on track to get her learner’s permit, volunteers as a junior firefighter in her spare time, wants to become CPR-certified, go to college and get married. Cheyenne has lost close to 60 pounds since November 2016 and the weight loss – combined with a healthier lifestyle – has changed her life dramatically, not just because she physically feels better than she has in years, but because she feels confident and inspired to achieve her dreams.

The past two years have been full of questions about Cheyenne’s health. It all began in 2015 when she was sitting in the nurse’s office at Needville (Texas) High School with a racing heartbeat. The nurse administered her inhaler, but then Cheyenne’s blood pressure skyrocketed and she was rushed to the hospital. Doctors performed several tests to figure out what was going on and each came back negative. Cheyenne was eventually diagnosed with hypertension and started to develop migraines that lasted all day.

“Cheyenne would call me every day from school crying because she was hurting so badly and she wanted me to come pick her up,” says Katie Cameron, Cheyenne’s mother. The school gave Cheyenne an elevator pass because she would get lightheaded if she took the stairs. Sometimes Cheyenne’s chest felt so heavy it was like “an elephant was standing on it.”

Between the doctors’ appointments and health issues, Cheyenne missed 180 classes during her first year of high school and 64 classes her second year. Doctors tried to medicate her symptoms as best they could and soon Cheyenne was taking four or five medications each day for her hypertension and migraines. But her health didn’t improve.

Finding the right doctor

Then in November 2015, Cheyenne began seeing Adrienne Kilgore Walton, M.D., pediatric cardiologist at McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. Walton sees patients at UT Physicians Cinco Ranch and UT Physicians Memorial City and specializes in hypertension among children and youth.

“When I first saw Cheyenne, she and her mother came to me with concerns about her obesity, hypertension and recurrent migraine headaches,” Walton says. “Across the country, we’ve seen an increase in hypertension cases with the rise of obesity over the years. Essential (primary) hypertension, which is the kind you may develop from your lifestyle or environmental factors, has increased substantially.”

An estimated 3.5 percent of all children and adolescents have hypertension, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently released new guidelines for health care providers on diagnosing hypertension among this population.

Walton decided to single out the symptoms Cheyenne was experiencing, addressing them one at a time. Migraine headaches can be a symptom of uncontrolled hypertension, according to Walton, and Cheyenne was on a number of medications for hypertension. The first thing Walton did was take her off all the medication and retest her for the condition. Cheyenne tested positive again and Walton prescribed her a single new hypertension medication. Then they began taking small steps to improve her overall health.

“It’s very important to treat the patient and the family holistically so that it’s not just about working out her medication. It’s also changing her diet, activity level and managing her emotional well-being,” Walton says. ”We started by figuring out her metabolic rate, which essentially told us how many calories she should be consuming in a day. We went through her diet and singled out small things she could change, like limiting sugary beverages and drinking fat-free milk or water instead.”

Fully committing

For her New Year’s resolution, Cheyenne decided to fully commit to eating right, being active and losing weight. Each time she saw Walton they made another change, starting with incorporating more fruits and vegetables, eating more lean protein and eventually cutting sugar out of her diet. Walton recommends her patients start off using a sectioned plate and putting vegetables in the large portion section and lean meat in the small portion to understand appropriate serving sizes.

“We work together with Dr. Walton. She is so encouraging to Cheyenne. She’ll tell her, ‘You’re doing great, Let’s lose a little more weight, or Let’s try exercising a little bit every day.’ Even if Cheyenne lost one pound or just didn’t gain weight, Dr. Walton was so encouraging,” Katie says.

Walton says not everyone is willing to make a lifestyle change to lose weight, but that’s what it requires. Cheyenne used to love French fries and would often eat junk food, but now her diet is full of fruits, vegetables and lean proteins. For breakfast, she’ll usually have strawberries and string cheese. For lunch, she’ll eat a salad, boiled eggs or tuna fish, and for dinner, a small salad and lean protein. Her new dietary staples are eggs, Brussel sprouts, green beans, grapes, berries and apples.

“Changing her diet was not just for the short term, but for a lifetime,” Walton says.

Walton also worked with Cheyenne and her family to reduce her sodium intake.

“Hypertension is directly related to the amount of sodium in our diet. The typical American consumes roughly 3,000 mg of sodium per day. We needed to get Cheyenne to reduce her intake to between 2,000 and 2,500 mg a day, but you can’t just say reduce sodium without educating the patient and the family about how to read a nutrition label,” Walton says.

Walton says exercise can be tricky for teenagers because it can be difficult for them to commit to a gym routine. Instead, she will ask patients what they’re interested in and what they can add to their daily routine to be more active. When Cheyenne mentioned living on a farm, Walton saw that as an opportunity to incorporate more physical activity.

“The goal is to make this as simple as possible. Cheyenne lives on a farm so we decided to use those day-to-day activities and chores as a part of her exercise,” Walton says. Cheyenne walks the cows, unloads feed for the animals and moves hay. She swims at a friend’s house, takes walks and jumps on the trampoline in her backyard, but she doesn’t do anything that’s not sustainable.

When she’s working with a patient, Walton likes to ask them about their goals so they have something to work toward every day. It can be graduating high school, going to college, or another dream. Cheyenne’s goal was to become a volunteer firefighter like her father, Sean Cameron, and her grandfather. Walton worked with her to find out what the physical requirements were to become a volunteer firefighter and used that as a motivation tool. Earlier this summer, Cheyenne accomplished her goal and joined the Damon Fire Department as a junior firefighter. She is learning under the supervision of her father and his peers.

Since losing weight, changing her lifestyle and getting her hypertension under control, Cheyenne is only on one medication for her migraines. Her blood pressure is now regularly around 100/70, which is considered normal for an adolescent, when it used to be 160/100. Katie says her daughter has such great self-esteem now and has inspired her family to eat right and be more active. Cheyenne is excited to get started on her new goals now that she’s equipped with healthy habits and a strong sense of self-confidence.

“You have to believe in yourself. It’s more mental than physical. And you have to keep yourself busy because you find yourself eating a lot when you’re bored. Just keep going – go, go, go,” says Cheyenne, when asked about her advice for others looking to make a similar change.

“Cheyenne has done a remarkable job. She and her family were willing to make a change for her long-term future. I’m hoping her story will help other families see they can do it too,” Walton says.

comments powered by Disqus

This site is intended to provide general information only and is not intended to substitute for or be used as medical advice regarding any individual or treatment for any specific disease or condition. If you have questions regarding your or anyone else’s health, medical care, or the diagnosis or treatment of a specific disease or condition, please consult with your personal health care provider.