MOUNTAIN HOME — In 2012, Crystal Spurlock went out for a run. It was a normal activity for the healthy 30-something single mom, who enjoyed 5Ks and driving her four children — then twin 16-year-olds, 14 and 12 — around to school activities.
“A pain, what I thought shot from my front tooth, went up into my head I dropped to my knees and I thought, ‘Something is wrong with me, something is very wrong with me.’ I had to try to get home with the pain repeating over and over.”
The dentist visit escalated to an emergency appointment with a neurologist. An MRI revealed Trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic pain condition that triggers excruciating pain from the vessel touching the nerve in her face. An open-brain surgery was performed to help, but caused nerve damage and stroke. Today, at 41 years old, she suffers from a seizure disorder, a speech impediment and trauma-induced fibromyalgia. It took years to walk on her own and she has no feeling in the right side of her face. She medically retired as a quality engineer for Baxter Lab.
Three times in 2019, she was in the ICU from seizures. On Jan. 2, she spoke with Arkansas Catholic after leaving the hospital on New Year’s Day.
“It was really hard going from a working mother involved in all sorts of things, a go, go family, where you don’t see your house very often. That’s who we were. We went from that to now mom can’t do anything. It was a drastic, hard change to accept,” Spurlock said.
In order to help others like her who suffer from chronic diseases, she established a chronic illness support group in September that met weekly at her parish, St. Peter the Fisherman Church in Mountain Home. The next group, which will meet monthly, will begin in the spring.
“People can’t look at us and see our ailments so a lot of times we get dismissed as not getting sick or faking it because one day they’ll see us being OK and one day we’re saying we’re not OK,” Spurlock said. “That’s a horrible thing. People need to be more aware of what a chronic illness actually does to you and what it looks like to suffer with one.”
According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, six in 10 adults in the United States have a chronic disease, and four in 10 have two or more. The center stated a chronic disease is a condition that can last a year or more with ongoing treatment and limits to activities. Chronic illness is the experience of living with the disease.
Along with sharing, Spurlock researched a different chronic disease each meeting to educate everyone and discuss how to be their own healthcare advocate.
“They don’t investigate for you and do a lot of research for you,” she said of doctors. “I’ve had to do that and advocate for myself. I’ve had to say to my doctors, ‘Look, I know what you’re doing, but there’s this procedure and I want to see if this would work for me.’”
Open to Catholics and non-Catholics, about eight people attended with a variety of chronic diseases, including epilepsy, arthritis and spinal cord injury.
Frances Montgomery, 83, a parishioner at St. Peter, was healthy for most of her life, but diagnosed with low sodium and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, though she never smoked, about a year and half ago.
People mistakenly think because of a low sodium diagnosis, “‘Oh good, you can eat all the
potato chips you want.’ That’s not the deal,” she explained.
It affects her mind, appetite, energy and limits her fluid intake. Her breathing is affected by COPD, preventing her morning walks.
“We have to give up what we love to do. It helps to … talk to other people and find out how they cope with their problems. Yes, spiritually, I realize you know that you can turn it over to God and use your time when you’re not feeling up to par, turn it over to God as a form of penance for our sins.”
Often, people with a chronic disease are chastised for not having a visible disability. For example, Spurlock said one woman who suffers from severe arthritis shared she sometimes uses a motorized cart at the store.
“People will actually ask, ‘Why are you using a cart?’ I’ve been asked many times. She felt embarrassed by it. It was a bad day, she couldn’t walk around and she needed stuff from the store,” Spurlock said.
In 2011, Spurlock converted to Catholicism and married her husband, Gregory, in 2016, who also converted. Hosting the group is also a chance to give back to her parish family that supported her.
“The church was just right there, immediately taking care of us. People would come over and help mow the lawn, take care of the yard. When it came Christmas time, people brought Christmas gifts for the kids. It was just amazing how St. Peter’s treated us when this all happened. They still take care of me if something happens,” she said. “… Spiritually is how I got through it; knowing that even if I’m just at home I’m not a prisoner, I’m still alive, I still have blessings, I still have so many great things.”
She encouraged other parishes to start their own groups, focusing on discussion, education and advocacy.
“It’s important for people to know there’s a lot of people out there like you,” Spurlock said.
For more information about the chronic illness support group, email Spurlock at or call (870) 847-7059.
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