We thank you so much for giving to such an amazing person in such a time of need.  We also encourage you to participate with the website BURPEES 4 BRITTANY for more ways to show your support.  Below you will find Brittany's story and thank you to her supporters.  


                      I feel like this story is so hard to tell because it’s so long. But friends have encouraged me to write it out as a way of healing so here I go.  So if you just want to skip the mushy-gooey-from-my-heart details and just want to hear the surgery plan, skip down towards the end.  I don’t want to bore anyone with too many details! 

            It all started back in August when we were having a budget talk, go figure! I started having these weird chest pains and had the first migraine I had in a long time. I ended up sleeping it off and the migraine went away but the chest pain did not. A couple of days later I ended up going to the doctor to get it checked out. He first said “you’re so young and healthy I highly doubt anything is wrong with your heart, it’s probably just a pulled muscle, but we will do some tests in case. If you don’t hear from me, no news is good news.” So the next day to see that I missed a call from the doctor’s office and then received a call to get more testing from the cardiologist was a little frightening not knowing what was actually wrong. The doctor himself called me that night to say I had a condition called Pericarditis, which is fluid around the heart. Either caused from a past infection, mine influenza back in May, or from a fall, which I was taking every weekend on my surfboard. So not really sure which it was, but now at 32 I was taking heart medication and a little freaked out. Doctor said no limitations, not even exercise, so I was thrilled and followed his directions and went on with summer. We were going like crazy living up summer. Hiking, boating, surfing, camping...go go go...no stopping!  

            Fast-forward a couple of weeks and we were off to our annual Napa trip with 2 other awesome couples ready for a great trip! Still fighting the Pericarditis, I ended up getting a cold in Napa from my sweet little kiddos that had it earlier that week. My luck! But I no way was I going to let a cold hold me back from wine tasting, running, hanging by the pool, and enjoying our kid free time after a crazy summer. So we loaded up on every homeopathic cold remedy you could buy to make it go away. Well I wish I could say it was more effective. The last night we were there my chest pain was a 10 on the pain scale and I couldn’t sleep. We almost headed to the hospital in Sonoma but instead just toughed it out with my sweet hubby by my side. That was a rough night and really where the symptoms began. 

             When we returned from Napa I immediately went back into the doctor. I was miserable. He thought it was still my pericarditis and it was just extremely flared up from the inflammation of my immune system from the stupid cold. They retook my blood and everything was worse than it was when symptoms started. So, we upped all medications and set me up for a cardiologist appointment. When they told me 3 weeks to wait for this apt I thought ok I could wait. I can handle this, until the other symptoms started. Then the headaches started and then the extreme dizziness. I’d be trying to coach and my hands would go all tingly. Looking out my car window thinking it was covered in dirt but that was just my vision being totally blurry. The list continued for about a week calling the doctor’s offices daily, just for them to say I just had to wait it out there was nothing they could do. Of course if you Google any illness you can usually find symptoms related to your condition. So I was still just thinking Pericarditis. About a week later ended up going into the ER because my dizziness was so severe I couldn’t even get my kids to school because my vision was so foggy.  Still blaming on my heart they ran all the same heart tests over but they were all coming up with the same amount of fluid so they weren’t concern. The ER doctor’s conclusion was that I was “addicted to exercise and since you’ve been so sick and unable to exercise your body is in shock.” Wait it out and you’ll be fine” Super helpful. So they sent me home with more pain meds and said, “I don’t know.” That really seemed to be the favorite phrase from the care I was given. I understand pain meds are given for pain for a reason but what I wasn’t ok with is them prescribing me all sorts of highly addictive drugs but still not having any reason for what I was going though. I didn’t want drugs ... I wanted answers. The only good that came from my ER visit that day was running into a good friend that his wife just had their baby!! Excited for them and their crazy birth story he sat with us in the ER trying to figure out with this could be. Was it really my heart or was something else going on. Vertigo? Ear crystals? Was I out of alignment causing pain? 

          Going from being a busy mom with 3 kiddos, working out everyday, running a very active business that I love, and just living a great life to overnight being in bed, barely able to take care of myself let alone my family to be told “I don’t know” was really wearing. 

           Waiting for this cardiologist apt barely able to walk my chiropractor that I ran into the ER that day said “this isn’t you, I feel like you need a brain MRI with all the neurological symptoms.” Thinking wow...my heart now possibly my brain. Hmmmm.  Trusting him and knowing my bills were already outrageous... why not! Ha. So off to the MRI I went. He called me within minutes of leaving the hospital to say there was something odd with my cerebral tonsils that maybe causing some of my symptoms but nothing serious like MS. So thinking that was good news we still awaited for cardiologist apt that we thought would be the final appointment. Rookie mistake. Ha! 

           The next day, the long awaited apt was the most disappointing experience. I was treated so poorly and felt like this doctor just didn’t care. He said things like “oh they have been calling me about you, I don’t know what to tell you. Yes you have Pericarditis and don’t feel good. You’re just going to have to wait it out and you’re not going to die. I have no idea why you’re having all the other symptoms, they aren’t related to your heart, I don’t know what to tell you.” At that moment I was so upset, and I kept thinking “why become a doctor if you don’t care about people!” And I was still frustrated that I was still so miserable. 

           Later that day I got a message from my chiropractor saying the radiologist had read my scans and I had something called Chairi Malformation. Probably something I was born with that isn’t to worry about until it becomes symptomatic. So of course I called a good friend who’s a nurse and said what the heck is this! Then I searched for it to find EVERY. SINGLE. SYMPTOM. On this list I had all the way back to the chest pain, chest pain, heart palpations, headache, neck pain, ear pain, vision problems, dizziness.... and on and on. I felt a sense of relief to think maybe we got to the bottom of these miserable few weeks but then to find out the only way to cure is serious surgery ...that made me uneasy. Brain surgery at 32…wow! It makes the tears flow just writing it especially when you read what could happen. 

           I went back to my primary doctor with this new diagnosis that I only found out about from the help from my chiropractor and he was a little in shock, I think. In all fairness to him when this started it was just chest pain. My question was were these two things related. Did one cause the other to flare up? How do I go from the best shape of my life to 32 with a heart and a brain problem??? From that appointment I was told of a neurosurgeon in Denver who specializes in this rare condition. He had one other patient who had this surgery and had a wonderful experience. So off we go to another 3 weeks of waiting for yet another appointment.

          Knowing the only cure for this Chiari was surgery before going to Denver, I wanted make sure I had exhausted every other alternative possible. I Tried Phystical Therapy for vertigo, negative. Got a blood test done for autoimmune diseases, negative. Went for a extremely short run to see if I pushed through if I would feel any better... was in bed for 2 days. Acupuncture..Craniosacral massage...Regular massage... Clean diet...Ozone blood therapy from a naturopath... You name it and I’ve tried it. And although the amazing care I received through alternative things like acupuncture, massage and natural medicine, it has helped give some relief... it is still not close to me being myself again. A good day for me now is a walk and at least making it into work for a couple of hours. But then on most of those days where I feel good then I do too much and the next days are like today that I’m writing this... in bed feeling terrible. 

          Heading to Denver was full of emotion. I was heading to a specialist for a condition I think that I had. Nobody had actually given me a “measurement” of the Chairi and a neurologist here sent me a denial letter and said they couldn’t see me. I didn’t know what to expect until the second I walked into the office that day. Etched into the doctor’s wall was this poem the doctor himself had wrote from years of seeing this condition. Instant tears streamed down my face because it was describing exactly what I have been going through. 

              When we met with the doctor he was kind, intelligent and made me laugh. He said he will start to see patients with a 0 reading meaning the Chiari is just touching the spinal cord.... and usually see symptoms intensify with 3-5mm of the herniation. When he measured mine I was at 18mm. Again, the tears just rolled. Emotions of being scared because of the severity of the condition but also a little relief to know I didn’t just waste a weeklong trip of testing to Denver. Brain surgery wasn’t a relief but it was a relief knowing something was wrong that is causing my life to completely turn upside down and hope this is something that can be fixable. With the extent of my herniation and the intensity of my symptoms, surgery is really the only option. It’s called a Chiari decompression surgery, which takes out the cerebral tonsil herniation out and allows the skull to have more room so the tissue is no longer putting pressure on my spinal cord. Basically that’s what is causing the issue and not allowing my spinal fluid to flow, as it should.

         So again...the waiting game continues. I am scheduled for surgery on Monday November 27th. That was the first available time that would allow enough time for the insurance company to process what they will cover. I will be in Denver for a week, in the hospital for 5 days, and then when returning home.  They said to expect an 8-week recovery. At week 5 I will start PT and re-strengthen the neck muscles they cut to take out the herniation. It will probably be up to a year to get back to things I love like running, Crossfit, kickboxing, Spartan races etc. 

         The last few weeks I’ve tried to stay positive and avoid letting myself get into a negative mindset... but to say that’s happening everyday is impossible. Before this I have lived my life each day trying to be as healthy and strong as I can. My whole identity surrounds being health and fit. Not only for myself, but for my kids, my athletes, and those who I love to share my fitness passions with. So to have that stripped away over night has been trying to say the least. To have my mind strong saying “you can do this, you can push your through” to my body feeling disabled, in pain, weak, and unable to do much of anything has been a battle. 

          I am blessed to say this through this entire thing I have had the love and support of my husband and kids...those vows “for better for worse, sickness and health” have sure been tested. They have been taking such good care of me and helping out in so many ways I have never felt so loved. Along with my family, friends, and amazing staff I am blessed to have such great support. But most importantly my faith is guiding me through these times, even the toughest of days... and for that I am so thankful. God has a reason for everything and I trust in his reasons and timing for this. If I would have been told earlier this summer at the start of my diagnosis I couldn’t workout for a year... I would have felt like my life would have been over. My world would have felt crushed. I wouldn’t have been ready for that. The last few weeks of misery has sure put into perspective how lucky I am and what’s important in life. 

         Chiari takes an average of 5 years to diagnosis. These past few weeks have been hard ... but I couldn’t imagine 5 years. Friends saying they have battled chronic illnesses for 10+ years. My mom who had her life changed at my age by a car accident, which changed her life, and before this I could never truly understand. Friends battling for their lives due to cancer; Family loosing loved ones suddenly and struggling for hope. The list goes on and on ... So as hard as this next year will be I am thankful to have a plan and an end on site. A hope that one day I will run again and have a will to know I will fight back. I have learned a lot and I have seen the precious love and care that’s has been surrounding me by so many.

          I will keep everyone posted the best I can through this site and Facebook. I also hope that my story can help others that maybe battle Chiari and not even know it. Just raising awareness for this rare condition and trying to be an inspiration for others fighting through even the toughest of times. I love a quote someone once said to me during my first Crossfit competition “Finish stronger than you started.” That quote is going to get me though these times and they mindset to know I will fight to finish stronger than ever! 

          I will keep everyone posted the best I can through this site and Facebook. I also hope that my story can help others that maybe battle Chiari and not even know it. Just raising awareness for this rare condition and trying to be an inspiration for others fighting through even the toughest of times. I love a quote someone once said to me during my first Crossfit competition “Finish stronger than you started.” That quote is going to get me though these times and they mindset to know I will fight to finish stronger than ever! 

I don’t think any “thank you” note could ever really explain my gratitude to everyone who is reading this.  Your calls, texts, emails, hugs and outpouring of love has been life-changing to me. I have realized, now more than ever, how blessed I am with my amazing family, friends, blaze cheer family, and community. I can also never fully thank or be more proud of my amazing staff and coaches for all their hard work while I have been gone. Thanks to their dedication to our athletes I have been able to fully focus on my family and getting better, for that I am forever thankful!

I truly enjoy being the one to bring a meal to those in need or donating to cause helping others. It’s really hard learning to accept and ask for help.  However; I have learned through this journey, I have to ask for help to get through these times and it does take a tribe.

 Whether it’s a meal, a donation, or the act of doing burpees in thought of me...I am forever grateful.  I know the road ahead will be long but I am determined to finish stronger than I started and then pay it forward to others needing my help.  God bless you all.  I love you and appreciate you!
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Eric N Brittany Sterkel 
Bozeman, MT
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