Nearly a month of treatment did nothing to help Hild’s pain. Neither did subsequent doctor’s visits. So, for the next five years, Hild lived off a feeding tube. She managed to finish college, volunteer at a shelter for homeless youth and complete a global health fellowship in South Africa.
“I realized that even if I was somehow impeded from having a normal life, I could still help people and do something meaningful. I think that’s what got me through,” Hild says.
Still, not being able to eat comes with complications, both medical and social. Hild had visited specialists throughout the country looking for answers, but found none. The possibility of a cure seemed to grow slimmer and slimmer after five years of dead ends.
Help came from an unlikely source: a medical student. While hiking, Hild’s parents serendipitously met a doctor who took interest in Hild’s case and passed her information along to his students. After researching possibilities, one student found a likely candidate: median arcuate ligament syndrome, or MALS.
Hild had been tested for this condition before with negative results. She was tested again, however, and found out that she did, in fact, have MALS; the previous ultrasound hadn’t been administered correctly.
After a MALS specialist in Chicago agreed to take her case, Hild flew in from South Africa after finishing her fellowship and received minimally-invasive surgery to correct the problem.
That was in March 2015. Since then, Hild has been able to eat and her pain hasn’t returned.
A rare and contradictory condition
MALS, also called celiac artery compression syndrome or Dunbar syndrome, is what medical professionals refer to as a diagnosis of exclusion, something only considered after all other more likely possibilities have been ruled out, says Benjamin Starnes, M.D., chief of vascular surgery for UW Medicine who has operated on patients with MALS.