Wanda Durant Leads Initiative to Empower and Educate Those Living with Graves’ Disease

Wanda-Kevin-Durant
Wanda and Kevin Durant. Image: Instagram/@therealmamadurant

To commemorate Graves’ Disease Awareness Month this July, advocate Wanda Durant is teaming up with Horizon Therapeutics to help others living with the disease.

Sports fan or not, it is impossible to deny the immense work ethic that Wanda Durant, nicknamed “The Real MVP™” and “Mama Durant”, has instilled in her son, NBA champion Kevin Durant. Most don’t know that Mama Durant is also a warrior herself, overcoming adversity and health issues to become a respected leader, entrepreneur, and philanthropist in the community. One of the major hurdles she has faced is a battle with Graves’ disease–an autoimmune disease and the most common form of hyperthyroidism–which she’s had for 17 years. This July, which is Graves’ Disease Awareness Month, Durant is on a mission to support those with the disease and educate others.

In partnership with Horizon Therapeutics, Mama Durant is joining forces with fellow Graves’ disease and TED advocate, 3x Olympic gold medalist Gail Devers, to help people get answers sooner so they can get back to raising the next generation of MVPs.  

Wanda Durant. Image courtesy of subject.

Durant’s goals are to speak on understanding the signs of Graves disease’, which is more common among Black and Asian communities, sharing her individual experience with the disease, and the importance of knowing the long-lasting effects on the body. She is spreading awareness on how to spot lesser-known complications like Thyroid Eye Disease (TED), which may affect up to 50% of Graves’ patients, is 5x more common in women and can cause eye bulging, extensive irritation, eye pain, and dryness. If not detected early, TED can cause serious damage to one’s appearance or vision. 

In addition to her health initiatives, Durant is the president and CEO of motivational platform “Hope, Dream, Believe, Achieve” (HDBA, LLC) where she shares her blueprint for parenting that she used to help her children become successful adults. One of her mantras is “where there is hope, there are possibilities.” Her passion is to inspire underserved children, single mothers, families, and communities to move beyond their immediate circumstances and to aim for higher heights in life.

In conversation with EBONY, Durant details her health journey, what people need to know about Graves’ and details on her partnership with Horizon Therapeutics.

EBONY: What symptoms did you see leading up to your diagnoses? How long did it take for you realize something wasn’t right?

Wanda Durant: It took nearly three years before I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease.  However, I knew for some time that something wasn’t quite right.  Several different symptoms had me going back and forth to the doctor.  I lost weight quickly, I had a heavy menstrual cycle, my hair was thinning, and I had my skin irritation. 

Then one morning, while I was on my way to work, my heart was beating rapidly.  I couldn’t catch my breath and I could feel my heart beating rapidly when I put my hand on my chest; I knew something wasn’t right.  I was terrified because I didn’t know what was going on, and I was alone.  When I arrived at the office, a colleague called 911, and I went to the emergency room by ambulance.  Once there, my heart rate had stabilized after several attempts.  I left the hospital without a diagnosis.  Later that evening, the ER physician called and suggested that I see an endocrinologist because my thyroid indicators were slightly irregular.  Shortly after that, I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease. 

Throughout the years, I’ve also had problems with my eyes.  My right eye sometimes bulges, and I experience sharp pain.  I heard vaguely about eye problems with Graves’ disease, but there was no discussion with the endocrinologist about it being a separate issue that I needed to address with specialists.  However, I recently learned that 50% of people with Graves’ disease might be at risk for a different related condition called Thyroid Eye Disease, or TED.  TED symptoms are eye pain, bulging eyes, pressure on the eyes, and irritation.  I didn’t know this in all my time living with Graves’ disease.  With this new information, I am scheduling an appointment with a TED Eye Specialist, such as an oculoplastic surgeon or neuro-ophthalmologist, to have diagnostic test(s) performed.

Did you know anything about or anyone with Graves’ disease prior?

Other members of my family have Graves’ disease and potentially TED, too.  My cousin’s eyes bulged extensively; but similar to my experience, I presumed it was a thyroid issue—Graves’ disease.  Unfortunately, we didn’t know about TED.  Now that I know, I’ll be making sure anyone who lives with Graves’ disease is paying close attention to their eyes, as they need to be treated differently from Graves’.

How has the disease affected your life? Have you had to slow down?

As a younger woman, I felt invincible. But as I’ve matured, I’ve become much more mindful of my health.  Living with a condition like Graves’ disease, I constantly monitor my thyroid levels with the help of my endocrinologist, so I don’t have to slow down my personal or professional life. But you don’t know what you don’t know.  Had I learned about the risk of TED sooner, I would have been more carefully monitoring my eyes and seeing a TED Eye Specialist.  That’s why I’m on a mission to help others not live with this blind spot for as long as I have.

What are the signs that people should be looking for, especially among the Asian and Black community? Are there any prevention options? How about recovery?

Symptoms of Graves’ disease include weight loss, irregular heart rate, hair loss, skin issues, and insomnia, among other symptoms.  People with Graves’ disease may also experience eye symptoms.  If you notice any eye changes – like eye bulging, redness, eye pain, or double vision – you need to schedule an appointment with a TED Eye Specialist.  Although related, TED is a different disease treated separately from Graves’.  Graves’ disease and TED do not discriminate and can affect all races and genders, though women are 5x more at risk than men to develop TED.  Smoking also increases your risk of TED by 8x for some patients. 

While there is no known prevention or cure for either of these chronic autoimmune conditions, seeking the proper care from the right specialist as early as possible is the best way to regain control of your health and manage the diseases.  But it all starts with awareness.  I am particularly passionate about helping women of color get the information they need to be their own health advocates; this inspired me to share my experience.

How important is it to you to spread awareness about the disease?

Particularly now, during Graves’ Disease Awareness Month, it’s imperative that we raise awareness for Graves’ disease and the risk for Thyroid Eye Disease (TED).  It was many years before I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease and nearly two decades later before finding out about TED.  That shouldn’t be the case.  In all my time living with Graves’ disease, I never knew the importance of monitoring my eyes.  I desire to help more people understand what TED is, how to spot it, and where to seek care.  To learn more, visit www.FOCUSonTED.com.

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