Chandler Plante has gone viral on TikTok with her positivity after a medical episode left her without vision in one eye
● Chandler Plante was completely healthy until being infected with COVID in December 2020.
● In the months that followed, she experienced a number of troubling symptoms that were first dismissed as anxiety.
● Later, Plante would discover she had a series of ischemic strokes and a mass behind her eye that led to loss of vision.
A healthy woman in her early 20s has spent the last four years navigating a health journey she could have never imagined.
Speaking with PEOPLE about her experience having strokes that were misdiagnosed, which ultimately led to a loss of vision, Plante says her attitude has helped her overcome the harsh realities she's faced.
"I started having these strange symptoms. I had severe migraines that just never really seemed to stop. I started getting numbness in my hands and my forearms — things that were different, but I just didn't know to be concerned about," Plante tells PEOPLE.
"And then in March, I actually ended up having my first stroke, but it was misdiagnosed as an anxiety attack. I had left arm numbness. My entire tongue went numb in my mouth. I actually ended up passing out in the E.R., and that was really when things started to go awry."
Plante's next stroke came in June when she was with "someone who could advocate on my behalf."
"The doctors finally did an MRI with contrast, and they were able to find that my internal carotid arteries were critically stenosed," noting the condition was "really not typical for a 21-year-old." It was determined Plante had experienced an ischemic stroke.
That wasn't the only complication Plante would deal with, however. In November 2021, she woke up with numbness in her head after having gotten stents placed in her carotid arteries.
"I was feeling like everything was great. I was ready to start my life again. I wanted to move past everything and then boom, numbness again."
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After another trip to the hospital, Plante was found to have a large mass behind her eyeball, originally diagnosed as a meningioma, a type of brain tumor.
"I remember almost celebrating with my mom, because a brain tumor is something that you can cut out. It's something that you can give a name to and we were just really happy to have an answer," Plante recalls, noting that when she flew home for treatment, she learned it was not a brain tumor.
Not only was she left without answers, but shortly thereafter, Plante "woke up with no vision in my right eye."
"I ended up waiting for 12 hours because this was peak COVID time. The hospital beds were full. There wasn't even a person to run an MRI. There wasn't even an ophthalmologist on call who could see me," she shares.
"I ended up having to leave against medical advice and taking a hit on my insurance to go to a different hospital, because there was no one there that could help me."
Plante eventually received treatment at a teaching hospital. "I was already on all these blood thinners because of my strokes. No one could really operate on me at that moment and there really wasn't anything that could be done anyway because that inflammation that had caused my strokes was causing compression on my optic nerve and reducing the blood flow."
At times, Plante's eye protruded from her head because of the inflammation.
"You can't take out that inflammation because it's interwoven with all of these nerves and all of these important muscles, And you can decompress it, but that's about it, so we do and then it flares up again, because that is the nature of inflammation. The best thing we can do is address the autoimmune part of it all and try to stop the flare-ups from happening."
Plante is staying flexible with her treatment options and has sought the advice of medical professionals from Lenox Hill to the Mayo Clinic, noting that it is a "very complicated process" considering researchers are still learning about COVID and long-term COVID, which is believed to be related to everything that happened to her after her initial infection.
"Right now, we're addressing it with methotrexate and Retox, which is a form of immunotherapy immunosuppressant. I get them every three months. But you know, my eye still looks a lot different and there is no just taking that eyeball out and making it better. There is no regaining my sight," she levels.
"There is no getting back to the way it was. This is something that has forever altered my life," she continues. "I did all the 'right' things but this is something that we still don't fully understand. I think a lot of people with mystery medical conditions can relate to that."
The medical episode has also led to a number of lifestyle changes, including moving back home from New York to have a support system as she navigates her unfolding situation.
"I was dealing with all of the medical trauma of waking up with no vision and seeing my parents react to the visual disability that I developed, watching my eye slowly getting worse," Plante says.
"I had to completely reassess my entire life," she continues. "I had to move back home. I had to put my journalism career on hold because I was exhausted to the extent where I couldn't even open my eyes to check an email. I was in so much pain all the time and I felt like a lot of my peers certainly couldn't relate to how I felt exhausted and debilitated all the time. I had to move back home and I lost all my independence. I just relearned how to drive."
She says, "It's something that is still taking a toll on me. I'm trying really hard to heal from it and not just cope with it."
Part of that healing has included her positive spin for poking fun at herself and the situation on TikTok, where she's amassed over 250,000 followers.
"I'm trying to have a good attitude and bring sunlight to it. I think sometimes people see me making jokes about it and they don't understand that I have to live with this every single day, so I can't carry the full weight of it every single day."
Plante, now 24, has also shown off her new collection of eyeball-themed goodies, from home decor to jewelry, to her fans.
"I'm all jokes. I have all the jewelry. I've got all the rugs in my apartment. These are all the things that make it a little bit less scary. I think the positivity is the only thing that's kept me going. Certainly, there are some days that are harder than others, but a positive conversation can make my whole entire day. When you're in pain, when you're going through something really dark, those little tiny moments of light, that's everything. It's what made life bearable at the time, so it was a survival thing. I was like, 'No, I can't live like this,' so, we had to brighten it up a little bit."
Plante says she continues to feel conflicted about how the situation, and particularly her misdiagnosis, has unfolded.
"It's interesting because I definitely do have anxiety and was grateful to have that taken seriously and addressed, but also, this was such a massive thing to miss. On one hand, I felt grateful to have my mental health addressed and on the other hand, I'm devastated to have had an entire ischemic stroke overlooked."
"As women, I feel like we shouldn't have to pick between the two," she points out. "I feel like I should be able to have my anxiety addressed before the age of 21 and also have an enormous medical episode caught, especially when I'm presenting in some of the most traditional ways. Luckily, I don't have any damage from that, but we could have caught this thing a lot sooner and possibly prevented a second stroke from happening."
Plante's story is very much still unfolding, but now she's able to share some of the even lighter moments with fans. Throughout her time on TikTok, she says her community there has been "incredibly supportive."
"I think so many people's lives have been touched by COVID and long COVID and chronic illness in general. People understand what it means to be affected by illness and by pain, and they want to understand how to get through difficult things. That's something I always stress, is that you can do hard things. It doesn't have to be so dark all the time. You can go through dark times in a way that still draws on humor and light."
She notes, "There are internet trolls and that's bound to continue, but I tune them out. It adds fuel to my fire, in a way, to want to do better and be even brighter. I've had people comment and say, 'You should not be this happy.' And yet, I am. I genuinely am and it makes my whole day."
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Read the original article on People.