ATU student’s bumpy ride has gotten smoother

Tommy Jackson/Contributing Writer Published July 6, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Amy Michelle Fairbanks of Magazine overcame a vascular malformation in her left arm with surgery and physical therapy. She is a student at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.

RUSSELLVILLE — Amy Michelle Fairbanks — a starting point guard on the basketball team, a shortstop in softball and a princess in the school’s Homecoming Court — was enjoying her senior year at Magazine High School when she started having trouble with her left arm.

“When I would wake up in the morning, my arm would feel like I had slept on it wrong,” Amy said. “[It] would be hard to extend or straighten out.”

She discovered a knot on her arm about the size of half a tennis ball.

Her mother, Renia, took Amy to a clinic in Paris, Arkansas, to have her arm examined. Amy was initially treated for an infection, but the prescribed antibiotics didn’t improve her condition.

Then in early October 2010, she was referred to a clinic in Fort Smith for an MRI, which revealed a mass in her arm. A biopsy followed. At first, it was feared that she had cancer.

To say that hearing that word was difficult is an understatement, and for a mother expecting to hear that her athletic daughter had a torn muscle or an infection, hearing the “C” word was devastating, Renia said.

“It was the longest weekend of my life,” she said.

Fortunately though, Amy did not have cancer. Doctors continued studying Amy’s records and discovered that what they had thought might be cancer was a vascular malformation that had been in her body since birth.

A sclerotherapy procedure, used to treat blood vessels or blood-vessel malformations, was ordered for Nov. 4, 2010, to treat Amy.

A medicine was injected into Amy’s vessels with the aim of making them shrink. This was followed by a second procedure on June 14, 2011.

After those procedures, Amy was referred to Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where Dr. Richard Nicholas determined that surgery was the only way to cure the vascular malformation.

That surgery, scheduled at ACH for Nov. 17 of that year, was performed by Nicholas.

Amy recalls him asking her to move her fingers as she came out of recovery.

The first month, she experienced minor tingling and numbness, but two months later, she was able to fully extend her arm.

After that came six weeks of physical therapy.

After 21 visits to a facility in Booneville under the watchful eye of therapist Cory Vanmeter, whom Amy affectionately refers to as a “drill sergeant,” Amy was dismissed from therapy on Jan. 27, 2012, during her freshman year at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.

She credits friends and family with helping her get through the ordeal.

Today, Nicholas has pronounced Amy fully cured. He said the mass had likely been in her body since birth and was dormant until she began to go through puberty.

There is another side to this story as well.

Amy and her mom have one of those relationships that inspires those around them.

Renia shared a story of an unusual pact between the two.

When Amy was 10, she made a promise to her mom that she would finish school before she got married.

“You will always be able to take care of you better than anyone else,” Renia, who had also made such a commitment, had told her daughter. “You are me, only better.”

Renia, who works at Magazine School, has been with her daughter throughout the ordeal. The two are best friends.

They recently spent a day of spring break on their four-wheelers, an activity they both enjoy.

Their friendship, love, trust and togetherness is undoubtedly what got them through their ordeal.

“Mom was there to catch me as I fell,” Amy said about hearing the news that she might have cancer.

Dad, Steven; and brother, Ethan, who is a sophomore at Magazine, round out the family.

Today, Amy is enjoying life to the fullest. She has no pain, and her arm works perfectly.

This 20-year-old’s busy college life includes many activities: A public-relations major, she is vice president of the Public Relations Student Society of America; a staff writer for the Arka Tech, the college newspaper; and assistant firm director for Platinum PR, the student-run firm founded by Arkansas Tech’s PRSSA chapter. She has also held internships at Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Russellville and the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

Amy is about to fulfill another dream: interning at the place she loves most, Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

She had heard many positive things about Children’s, but “when you walk in there and experience for yourself that everyone is there to help you, it’s just amazing,” she said.

And “amazing” is probably the best word to describe Amy, who plans to graduate from Arkansas Tech in May 2015.

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