For more than two years, Kendra Jackson has dealt with a continuous and annoying runny nose that caused her to lose sleep as she coughed, sneezed and blew her nose day and night.
The 52-year-old turned to doctors and specialists to help find a treatment, but she was frequently told her runny nose was the result of a virus or a bad case of seasonal allergies. Yet, Jackson’s symptoms never went away on their own, and she coped by carrying around loads of tissues everywhere she went.
“I just kept going back and forth to the doctor,” Jackson tells PEOPLE. “They thought it was just my allergies. The common cold. And I kept telling them it was more than that because it wouldn’t stop and it was just continuous, and it was just driving me crazy. I couldn’t sleep. Bad migraine headaches and I was just miserable.”
Jackson’s runny nose was so debilitating that she found herself sleeping in a reclining chair instead of her bed because if she laid down, her runny nose would pour out “like a waterfall” when she woke up, she says. As a last-ditch effort, Jackson visited doctors at Nebraska Medicine, near her home in Omaha.
“I was very adamant. I told them was not leaving the office until they figured out what the hell was wrong with me,” she says. “I was so miserable and I had contemplated suicide. I had a lot of suicidal thoughts. I did. I knew something was wrong with me.”
Doctors there concluded Jackson’s runny nose wasn’t due to a cold or allergies, at all. Terrifyingly enough, they discovered cerebrospinal fluid — a colorless liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord — was coming out of her nose from a tear in her skull. Jackson’s medical team estimated she was leaking a half-liter of brain fluid every day.
“When a person loses that much spinal fluid and it replenishes itself, I could have developed infections,” Jackson says. “It eventually probably would have killed me because I wouldn’t have been able to catch the infections in time.”
Tracing back her steps, Jackson remembered she had been involved in a car accident in January 2013, when a woman slammed into the back of a parked medical van Jackson had been driving.
“On impact, I hit my face on the steering wheel and I blacked out,” Jackson recalls. “When I woke up, I heard her screaming, hollering, ‘help me, help me’. When I woke up I just automatically called 911.”
Jackson likely damaged her skull during the impact, but it wasn’t until months a few months after the accident when her symptoms first appeared. Though her runny nose seemed to stop for a few years, it came back with fury about two-and-a-half years ago.
“It was like this every day, nonstop,” she says. “Every day. It didn’t stop.”
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People who are losing cerebrospinal fluid will typically notice the liquid coming out of their ears or nose depending on where their skull is damaged, and headaches and vision loss are common symptoms, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Doctors at Nebraska Medicine performed surgery on Jackson in April to close the tear in her skull, and even used Jackson’s own fatty tissue to plug the hole.
Today, Jackson says she has, at long last, returned to a seemingly normal life—with much more sleep and a lot less tissue paper!
“You know, considering what I went through, I don’t have to walk around with a box of Kleenex and I don’t have to walk around with it in my purse or my pocket,” Jackson says. “I feel pretty good today! I’m really blessed to be alive. I really am.”