At 22, Mike Palmerino was the picture of good health. He was an avid hiker and runner, who enjoyed working out.
But in the spring and summer of 2011, his health rapidly deteriorated as Palmerino lost control of his muscles. He began slurring his words and choking on his food.
After a ten-hour shift in the security department at St. Mary’s Hospital in Amsterdam, Palmerino would come home sounding as if he was drunk. “My words were extremely slurred, to the point where you couldn’t understand what I was saying,” says Palmerino, now 23, who lives in Amsterdam, N.Y. “I couldn’t smile. I couldn’t sip out of a straw. And I lost 20 lbs because I couldn’t swallow.”
One day, while hiking with friends near Sacandaga Lake, his legs buckled, and Palmerino couldn’t walk. “I fell over, and I had to use my friends as crutches,” he says.
Doctors were baffled. One suspected he had Lyme disease. Another suspected amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Still another wondered if he had multiple sclerosis. Eventually Palmerino was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, an autoimmune disease that causes muscle weakness. He came to Albany Medical Center, where he sought the care of Dr. Rose Domingo, who specializes in neuromuscular diseases.
Because the disease is more common in middle-aged women and older men, it wasn’t easy to catch. “I didn’t fit the mold at all,” Palmerino says. “It was pretty scary.”
Once he was diagnosed, Palmerino was put on heavy doses of prednisone, a steroid. He also underwent plasmapharesis, a procedure that cleans his blood of abnormal antibodies. In November 2011, Dr. Thomas Fabian, Albany Med’s chief of thoracic surgery, performed minimally invasive surgery to remove Palmerino’s thymus gland, an organ involved in the immune system early in life that is abnormal in people with myasthenia gravis.
Since that day, Palmerino has been healthy. He went back to exercising and began training to become a police officer for the Amsterdam Police Department, where he was working as a clerk. He graduated from the Police Academy in January 2013. “Knock on wood, I’ve been completely off medication and haven’t had a symptom since the surgery,” he says.