Claire Sadowniczak

Type of Porphyria

Acute Intermittent Porphyria (AIP)

Claire Sadowniczak of Orlando, Florida, is a member of the APF. She keeps the group encouraged and laughing. Her stories about her turtle Alamo are sheer delight and lessons in tenacity for all of us.

My mother and I have AIP; I started attacks at age 11. One thing that gives me great pleasure is rescuing a wild animal, nursing it back to health and releasing it back into the wild. One rescued 5" brown and black Florida mud turtle left me a present, an egg. It hatched on a freezing day, so I couldn't release it. The black hatchling was smaller than a dime, the shell still soft when I picked her up. I carried her in the palm of my hand as I was preparing a tank of gravel with a plastic sour cream lid as her "pond". We went to the pet store to try to find food small enough for her. They said I'd never keep her alive and she's now 11 years old. When I finally put her into her tank, she ran to the front glass begging me to pick her up again. She ignored my screaming Pomeranian who was jumping up and down in front of her tank. I named her Alamo for her courage in the face of danger.

Water turtles do not have salivary glands or pulmonary muscles to swallow air to breathe. After being out of the water awhile, her mouth dries out and her beak "squeaks". When this occurs, I put her back into her pond. Once I picked her out of her pond and put her on hubby's lap, so I could clean her tank. She doesn't like him so she began squeaking her beak when I left the room, begging to get off his lap!

She potty-trained herself, too. I kept a towel on my lap when I held her. She realized that I didn't like her mess and hasn't had an accident since she was six months old. She just squeaks her beak to ask to go back into her tank.

I feed her with a plastic spoon. Since she is in the snapping turtle family, I didn't want her to associate fingers with food. She'll swallow anything presented on a spoon, including medicine and will follow a spoon anywhere! She also loves TV and gets very involved. If a car explodes on a show, she'll open her mouth at the TV.

Once she had a respiratory infection; turtles can catch colds from people. The vet told me to add a heater and thermometer to her tank to keep the water at 80 degrees. She did not like either, popping the heater off its rubber suction cups and bashing it and the thermometer against the rocks till I removed them. It is HER home after all.

Alamo enjoys being an only child and will attack a mirror until it is removed. Although the breed is supposed to be "vicious", she is a sweety with me. She once saw a piece of shiny fuzz on my sweater that she wanted to eat. She very gently tried to get it with the side of her mouth so she would not accidentally bite me through the sweater.

I carry her around under the hem of my T-shirt or in a pocket for hours, and her little head comes out like a periscope to look around. She sits on my lap in the car. In the vet's office, Alamo watches the other animals from my lap and feels quite safe and content. I put her on the grass in the back yard for exercise, and she runs straight back to me. Definitely a lap turtle!

Alamo's Mother, Claire Sadowniczak
Prior to my diagnosis of Acute Intermittent Porphyria, I underwent abdominal surgery with sodium pentothal, went into cardiac arrest and a three month major porphyria attack. Therefore, when I learned that I needed gallbladder surgery, I was very nervous.

I found a general surgeon, Dr. Cesar Cabascango, who is not only familiar with porphyria, but I was his fifth patient with porphyria. Normally, with the laproscopic gallbladder procedure, you have surgery the same day as admission and go home the following morning. Because of my porphyria, Dr. Cabascango had me admitted the day before surgery, opened a central line with three ports in my chest, and infused large doses of dextrose. He continued to infuse dextrose during surgery and for an additional two and a half days in the hospital after surgery. By faxing information on porphyria to my insurance company, he even got them to approve the additional stay in the hospital. I did not suffer a porphyria attack whatsoever.

The surgery was performed at Florida Hospital Orlando. The Assistant Director of Anesthesiology handled my case personally, and brought me through the procedure with no problems. Everyone at the hospital researched porphyria, read the brochures from the American Porphyria Foundation that I provided, questioned me about it, and treated me with such special care that it was my most positive hospital experience ever.

Many people with porphyria have horror stories about past medical care, including myself, but things are improving and the brochures provided by the American Porphyria Foundation are a great benefit when distributed to health care professionals.