Mito Champion Spotlight – Caitlin Baran

There doesn’t seem to be a sport that Caitlin Baran hasn’t tried. The State College, PA, resident has competed in track and field, bocce, golf, swimming, and tennis. She plays ice hockey and hopes her future will include a competitive snow shoe event. Despite her competitive nature and strenuous activities, Caitlin battles mitochondrial disease.

Caitlin’s journey began in infancy when her parents noticed the first signs of her illness. It wasn’t until she was in her later teenage years that mitochondrial disease was considered. “I was in the Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome and Mitochondrial Disease Study that was conducted by Dr. Richard Boles. Now all of the symptoms that I thought were random (constant chronic fatigue, weak muscles, Cyclic Vomiting Syndrome, ocular migraines, high functioning autism, muscle/joint pain) all make sense,” she said. She completed genetic testing last month and hopes the results will provide more information about her mitochondrial disease, which is not her only challenge.
“I struggled in school, especially with reading comprehension and abstract thinking. I went through testing because of my challenges, and it was determined that I had high functioning autism, which I was diagnosed with when I was 15,” Caitlin added.

“My challenges with Mitochondrial Disease are first and foremost fatigue. I tend to sleep at least ten hours, and even then I experience a lot of fatigue,” Caitlin said.  She battles occasional ocular migraines, muscle weakness and pain.

“My ankle, especially my right one, has a tendency to collapse at times. I had trouble with handwriting when I was younger, which was probably the result of my muscle weakness, and I fell a lot when running and walking when I was a kid,” she added. “I also get hit really hard with a cold at least once, sometimes twice, a year, though because of the pandemic and not being around many people, I haven’t had a cold in over a year.” Despite her struggles, Caitlin remains active and competitive.

Her autism diagnosis qualified her to participate in the Special Olympics program in Pennsylvania. “In December, I was diagnosed with Benign Hyper-Mobility, a type of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, and, as such, I have decided that tennis isn’t a good choice of sports for me,” Caitlin said. She now competes in the pool, because swimming is the best for her joints. Aside from being a Special Olympian, Caitlin is also a member of the Happy Valley Beavers, a special hockey team that is part of the American Special Hockey Association. “When the pandemic started, my hockey team was gearing up to play in the USA Hockey Disabled Festival, which is a huge hockey tournament which moves around each year”, Caitlin said. The tournament was slated to be in Pittsburgh last year but was canceled because of the pandemic in 2020. The tournament was rescheduled for this year but had to be canceled again. “Next year, in 2022, the tournament will be in Pittsburgh, and I am looking forward to playing in the USA Hockey Disabled Festival.” We are looking forward to cheering her on.