Each of the seven episodes that make up Dr. Lisa Sanders' Netflix series, Diagnosis, dive into rare medical mysteries and turn to the internet to crowdsource theories and information in the hopes of identifying and treating debilitating and often life-threatening conditions.
On Netflix's Diagnosis, Lashay Hamblin, 17, explains, "My body is going through something that no one can figure out." But where is the Utah native today and how is she doing? Keep reading to find out.
Lashay was healthy and happy until she became unable to keep any fluids down at 15.
We first meet Lashay during a family meal over the course of which she is clearly struggling to swallow and keep her food down. "After I eat," she says, "I don't know why but it turns my stomach in a way where I just can't handle it. Ever since this has started, I haven't kept fluids down."
Lashay's troubles eating and drinking have affected her school and social life. "Normally I do homeschooling," she says of not being able to attend high school on a regular basis. "I just wanna get an education because I know a lot of people in my position don't," she explains.
What's worse, her condition has gotten in the way of her friendships."When I got sick, I lost a lot of friends so I do feel a bit isolated," she laments. "The worst part of this is that I can't have the connections I wish I could have with people." Before she got sick, Lashay led an active social life.
Her rare disease started on a trip to Costa Rica.
"This child lived an active, normal, wonderful life and then it just switched," Lashay's dad says of his once chirpy daughter. According to the family, it all began on a trip they took together to Costa Rica, which ended with a rather traumatic event, when Lashay got pretty badly bitten by a raccoon.
The raccoon broke Lashay's skin "and then everything got really bad," she remembers. "After Costa Rica is when I started vomiting and having all of these symptoms." When we meet her, Lashay can't hold anything down and can barely urinate. As a consequence of her frequent vomiting, she is using a chest port to deliver intravenous fluids.
But Dr. Sanders cautions the chest port is not a long-term solution and can ultimately be quite dangerous in the long run. She's determined to use the internet to try and figure out what is causing Lashay's nausea, dizziness, and pain.
But it doesn't help that few people take Lashay's condition seriously.
Dr. Sanders explains that Lashay's is one case where we really see "the darker side of crowdsourcing." Lashay and her mother are already quite jaded and untrustworthy of the medical community from the start, which makes sense because the doctors she's visited in the past "basically said, 'This is psychological, so we're done,'" as her mother tells it.
When Lashay seeks out Dr. Sanders' help, it's because most doctors assume she has an eating disorder and make her feel blamed for what is happening to her. Unfortunately, some people online echo this perspective, diagnosing her with bulimia, "picky kid syndrome," or outright disbelieving her symptoms.
Does Lashay from Netflix's Diagnosis ever get treatment for her rumination?
Ultimately, with the help of some folks on the internet, Dr. Sanders arrives at the conclusion that Lashay has rumination syndrome, which she explains as a "rare chronic functional disorder where people, after eating food, automatically spit it up or regurgitate it."
"It's sometimes lumped in with eating disorders like bulimia but it's not deliberate, not intentional. People with rumination syndrome can't make it happen," she says.
Rumination, which presents as "kind of like a hiccup or a burp, more of a reflex of how you're swallowing" where "part of the food goes down and part of the food goes up," seems to account for all sides of Lashay's experience, from the fact that it could have been contracted by a parasite, to the POTS symptoms of dizziness, rapid heart rate, and lightheadedness that go along with it.
And while Dr. Sanders manages to pin down Nationwide Children's Hospital as the most specialized place for Lashay to seek treatment, Lashay and her mother are so skeptical about doctors and treatments — and so untrustworthy of the medical community in general — that they end up not seeking it out.
"Now she has a diagnosis and it's up to her as she moves into adulthood to find a treatment that is going to work," says Dr. Sanders of her decision, adding that gaining a patient's trust is often one of the hardest things a doctor can do.
According to Lashay's Facebook page, shooting Diagnosis has led to her "coming to terms with being sick."
"I never wanted to believe it because I thought it was just [a] negative way to describe me but I've realized that the pain and suffering I've been through has made me an incredible person," she writes. "I know things happen for a reason and I'm grateful for these past years especially since I've learned and experienced so much at such a young age. I'm hoping this stage of my life ends soon."
Stream Lashay's episode of Diagnosis on Netflix today.