Brandon Thomas was born in Edmonds, Washington on January 23, 1992 along with his twin brother, Devin. Brandon grew up with a love of sports. He spent most of his free time either playing sports or watching sports. From the time he was 8 years old he would run to the mailbox every Sunday morning to grab the sports page. He wasn't interested in cartoons before school, it was ESPN. Brandon grew up playing soccer and made several good friends in the process. By the time he started high school, he developed a strong passion for running. He joined track and cross country and developed such a great bond with his team, the joy of being part of the team was more powerful than the joy of running itself.
Brandon joined the Bellevue Fire Department Fire Explorers Program with his twin brother, Devin, during his Junior year in high school. Brandon desired to become a firefighter like his father, Steve. He was planning to start taking tests this summer. Brandon also liked the idea of becoming a part-time personal trainer like his mother, Dawn.
Brandon was accepted into the University of Washington where he studied Political Science. He made great friends while being a part of several intramural sports teams including basketball, flag football, and ultimate Frisbee. He also joined a racquetball league. Brandon started to become very close with his seven UW dorm cluster-mates. They started making plans to go on road trips, skydiving, and many more activities that were all part of a bucket list Brandon had created for himself. Sadly, Brandon did not complete this list. Mom, Dad and Devin plan on completing the bucket list for him. Examples include; skydiving, Duthie Hill jump (Devin), grow a beard and leave it for at least a month, $100 on red in roulette, make a speech in public, conquer fear of blushing (will be by proxy through his legacy) which may lead to yet another: saving someone's life.
Brandon was a bright light in the lives of his family and friends. He never failed to offer a helping hand, words of encouragement, and a ready smile to those in need. It has been said by several who had the privilege of knowing him, that Brandon had been a mentor to them. Brandon hoped that his death would help bring awareness to the medical community to help others suffering from Pathological/Chronic Blushing. Following is his story and his legacy.
Brandon's Personal Battle
This is not a comprehensive study on this subject or a complete recap of all facts in Brandon's life. It is a quick recap, developed during an intensely stressful time, in order to help people understand why an incredible young man with so much promise, loved and admired by all he touched could take such a drastic measure to escape his pain. He wanted his story told, so we are telling it. We are sharing an incredibly private battle with loved ones and strangers in the hopes of healing those impacted by this event and preventing another tragedy such as this.
How Could This Happen?
Brandon suffered from a little known and often misunderstood condition called pathological or chronic blushing. The cause is an overactive sympathetic nervous system. Sufferers usually report the onset near puberty, as Brandon's was, however many people have had it begin in their mid twenties. Common complaints are blushing for no apparent reason. Obviously this creates anxiety but also shame, because the onlookers are confused to why the blushing is occurring. In other words, there is no embarrassment or perceived anxiety to trigger the blushing, but this now creates embarrassment and anxiety creating a vicious cycle often leading to erythrophobia or extreme fear of blushing. Think of your sympathetic nervous system being like a hair trigger on a gun, the slightest provocation sets it off. In Brandon's case, as with many others, erythrophobia and depression set in. He began withdrawing from certain social situations but not all. We know he enjoyed going to Husky football and basketball games as well as Sounder and Mariner games with his buddies, but other normal social events were much more limited as far as we know. However, we are finding out only now, that he appeared to be happy and full of life to others at school, which explains our confusion, jumping between extreme concern and relief as we peered into his life. We now know that alone in his thoughts at night he went to bed sad every night and often cried himself to sleep. This is the most heartbreaking and unbearable part of his story. Avoiding all potential anxiety producing situations was not possible especially while attending a large university. Brandon's condition began in his 15th year of age at puberty. He finally revealed his problem to his mother Dawn at the beginning of his sophomore year at the University of Washington. This was more than 4 years after this initial onset. Until this time his parents, Steve and Dawn had never witnessed the episodes, or at least thought anything of any blushing episodes, as they did not seem abnormal. Clearly, a lot of damage to Brandon's self-esteem had been done, but it was not obvious to people who knew him. What was more apparent was his depression. Brandon had already attempted hypnotherapy, as he had read this on the internet. This did not work. We immediately found a counselor that suggested bio-feedback with counseling as she was focusing on the anxiety as the cause rather than his sympathetic nervous system being hyperactive. Now, this is not necessarily wrong as anxiety now adds to the frequency of episodes. But, to the sufferer, having blushing episodes for no reason, much like a woman going through menopause having hot flashes, coming out of nowhere at very inopportune times, this is extremely stressful. This has now become a multi-faceted problem needing; control of the sympathetic nervous system, anxiety treatment as well as depression treatment.
Having found no success to this point and continuing our research, Dawn finally found a book that made the condition crystal clear, " When Blushing Hurts" by Enrique Jadresic, an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Chile in Santiago, who has suffered from the same symptoms and now treats many patients. Some had success with anti-anxiety/depression meds coupled with beta-blockers to subdue the sympathetic nervous system. But most resorted to Endoscopic Thoracic Sympathectomy (ETS) surgery. This is most commonly used on patients suffering from hyperhydrosis or sweating palms. However, they discovered that by moving up the nerve to T2 rather than T3 this can stop or limit the episodes of blushing. The most common side effect is increased sweating in the torso, as sweating from the neck up ceases. While not commonly reported, this can result in a reduced ability to release body heat under extreme physical exercise, that high performance athletes may experience. Clearly, surgery is a serious decision and should not be taken lightly. However, for sufferers this will often be the choice, at least for those that know there is a possible surgical solution. They are desperate, as Brandon was.
Simultaneously, we began a series of tests with our doctor checking for hormone levels, rare but possible cancerous tumors and output of the sympathetic nervous system. All came back normal excluding the sympathetic nervous system which was hyper-active or heightened. This was not a surprise, just confirmed. We began the medication route, low dose Zoloft and lowest possible dose of a beta blocker. Brandon's heart rate was already low and beta blockers can lower it even more. He began getting some relief, but it wore off later in the day and made him very tired. He did not like the fatigue.
At the same time Brandon began medication we met with a thoracic surgeon at Swedish Medical Center. This doctor did not routinely do ETS surgery for blushing, but did it for hyper-hydrosis. He wanted to see Brandon, agreed he was a candidate, but also agreed that he should finish all other tests and try medication before surgery. He could only give him a 50% chance of success, but told Brandon to come in anytime with or without parents if he wants to get the surgery. We agreed with the plan. We wanted Brandon to regain hope. Brandon was not optimistic that the medication would work in the long term. We asked that he please remain positive or at least consider that it may work while his body is getting used to the drugs. He did have some positive results, as mentioned. We discussed that this summer he would be able to exhaust all options until he got the results he wanted, including consulting with doctors in New York or Texas with more experience with T2 ETS. Our hope was that they would be able to offer a higher success rate. He was anxious to get the surgery. We were simply waiting for school to finish and allow other options a chance.
Brandon's Explanation of His Life with Pathological/Chronic Blushing
I blush several times a day. It doesn't have to be when I am embarrassed either. Things like when I'm at a grocery store and I see someone I know. I might actually want to talk to them, but I also don't want to because I know I will blush in front of them. I sometimes blush even if they don't see me. I definitely blush if I actually do run into someone I know anywhere, when I am not expecting to run into them. I blush when called on in class, or when I speak up in class. I blush when the attention is on me, even when I am with a group of people I am very comfortable with. If for example, someone says " Hey Brandon tell everyone that story you told me", I will blush, even if I really want to tell the story. Blushing sometimes affects what I do in life. At school I sometimes don't use the elevator with fear that it will stop on another floor and someone I know gets on. I even blush in the car sometimes even when I'm alone. If I make a mistake driving, I sometimes blush. At night, when I think about instances where I have blushed, sometimes I blush, or at least feel my face get warm. I am tired of blushing. It is exhausting to wake up everyday and have to find little ways to avoid blushing situations, like taking different routes, etc.
Brandon's Final Request
Create awareness of Pathological/Chronic Blushing to prevent others from suffering the debilitating effects.
Our Promise to our Son and Brother, Brandon
At Brandon's request, we are undertaking an effort to create awareness of this condition and provide easy access to all available information on the topic. When Brandon finally let us in to his secret life of torment, we were obviously way behind. Much of the information being provided in this letter was only made available to us after his death. Brandon had spent years researching his problem which lead to a warped and hopeless view on the issue and his hopes for the future, of getting married, getting a good job and being happy in the future. I am sure the negative blogs overwhelmed him spiraling him into despair-privately. Therefore, we will begin by building a website that is a comprehensive site on the issue of Pathological/Chronic Blushing. We envision this site being the number one site hit on internet searches when the issue is typed in; blushing, fear of blushing, erythrophobia etc. When we were researching, it was very difficult, jumping all over the web to find information. This took valuable time. We will strive to keep the website up to date on all information to make treatment decisions as quick as possible. We will provide all research information including access to the book, "When Blushing Hurts", that was the key to us understanding Brandon's condition. We will provide a comprehensive list of surgeons that perform ETS surgery. We will share stories of success to maintain hope with sufferers and to counter all the negative information. We will share Brandon's and others stories so that parents can quickly understand the potential of this condition with their child. Brandon hoped to bring happiness to others and save lives, an extension of his life on earth.
Thank you for caring enough to read Brandon's story. If you can share this with someone in your life, maybe Brandon can continue his legacy of making others lives better for having known him.