Woman’s rare illness leads to discovery of hidden talent
Norco resident Laurie Barreca has a hidden talent: making beautiful jewelry. But she only discovered her talent after months of suffering through a rare medical condition.
At the beginning of this year, Barreca, 27, was healthy and had a steady job at Ochsner that she loved.
Then one day in late May she had to leave work because she was feeling nauseous. She went to the doctor and had some tests run, but they were inconclusive.
After 12 weeks of testing, Barreca was finally diagnosed with gastroparesis, a potentially deadly condition which affects the muscles and nerves in the stomach and made her unable to digest food.
“I spent most of the day vomiting, whether I ate or not,” she said. “I was throwing up 5 to 7 times a day.”
The condition usually affects people with diabetes, but Barreca has no history of diabetes and the condition is not genetic. She said there does not seem to be any particular reason she got it. Barreca had to leave her job as an orthopedic assistant and was unable to leave the house for even the simplest of tasks, like shopping or visiting friends.
“Doing stuff around the house, I had found a turquoise bracelet I got in Arizona…it was really pretty but it got caught on something and the clasp broke,” she said. “So we went to Michael’s and started looking at stuff…I started picking up some extra things.”
Soon, she was making trips out to bead shops in New Orleans with her parents, reading jewelry design articles and watching how-to videos online.
“It was therapy for me because I wasn’t constantly focusing on how hungry I was or how bad I felt…it gave me a break,” she said. “We turned our spare bedroom into a studio with shelves of beads and bead boards and tables.
“This went from something to keep me entertained to something that makes me really happy.”
Soon, she founded Little Green Frog Designs, a licensed business in which she sells her hand-made jewelry.
Barreca said she never thought she would be making jewelry for profit.
“I never thought of myself as an arts and crafts person. I can’t paint, I can’t sing, if you ask me to draw a picture it’s going to be the stick-figure type,” she said. “I don’t know what it is, but I can look at a whole bunch of different beads and colors and just know what’s going to look right.”
In September, she underwent surgery at Ochsner to have a gastric pacemaker put in her stomach to try to alleviate the problem.
“It’s a lot like a heart pacemaker, but this stimulates the stomach,” she said. “I was really lucky to have a doctor that caught it…a lot of people go years before they have the surgery.”
Even after the surgery, Barreca said she is still having a slow recovery and has to go to the doctor every 3-4 weeks for adjustments on the pacemaker.
“I wasn’t realistic and I thought I would have the surgery and it would be better automatically,” she said. “I still have days where I can barely sit up straight, but it is a lot better.”
Barreca said that doctors have no way of knowing if the gastroparesis will ever stop being a problem for her.
But now that doctors are working to help her live a normal life again, Barreca has big dreams that she would not have had it if she had not gotten sick.
“If I wouldn’t have gotten sick I would have stayed at Ochsner. I had a great job – I can’t say enough about how great that place was, but it made me feel comfortable to the point where I didn’t think I needed to do more with my life,” she said. “Now this gives me the opportunity to say ‘I know I can do more.’”
While Barreca enjoys making jewelry and plans to keep up her business, she also hopes to return to school to get her nursing license once she has recuperated.