North Huntingdon teen overcomes illness to compete in pageant
A North Huntingdon teen hopes to inspire others by competing at the National American Miss pageant in Anaheim, Calif., this November.
Victoria Piekut, 16, earned a spot at the competition after judges named her first runner-up overall at the National American Miss Junior Teen Pageant in Harrisburg last month.
Doctors diagnosed Victoria with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, three years ago.
The disease, which is most common amongst teenagers, affects the autonomic nervous system, which regulates organ function in the body. It causes several symptoms, including dizziness, an increased or slowed heart rate, low blood pressure, excessive fatigue, exercise intolerance, nausea, weakness, sensitivity to noise and light, and insomnia.
Patients typically control it with lifestyle and dietary changes, as well as medication.
Victoria's mother, Christine Piekut, said Victoria is coping with POTS through vitamins, exercise, massage therapy and with the assistance of a chiropractor.
“Most kids need some form of a prescription medication, and most kids don't go back to school right away when they have POTS,” said Christine Piekut.
“But she's always stayed in, even though she was partially homebound sometimes.”
Victoria enjoys opera singing through Duquesne University's City Music Center and sings with the chorus and Theatre Club at Norwin High School. Last year, Victoria participated in the school's musical, which most children with the disease cannot do, Christine said. “You're really not even supposed to sing with POTS because it takes a lot of oxygen and stresses the body, so even just singing is a huge accomplishment,” Christine Piekut said.
Last month's pageant was another high point for Victoria.
Her mother said the National American Miss Junior Teen Pageant had invited Victoria to participate in the pageant for the last three years, but due to her illness, she had always declined. This year, Victoria told her mother she wanted to participate.Victoria had to prepare an introduction about herself and perform a talent in two minutes or less. She chose to work with a friend to arrange a piece on the piano.
She competed against 115 girls. In addition to being named the overall first runner up, the judges also named her the third runner-up in the talent competition and third runner-up in the acting competition.
But the hardest part was participating, Christine Piekut said.
“Standing is a difficult thing for her, so they made her the first contestant, so she could sit down,” Christine said. “If she wouldn't have been able to do that, she'd have been half-sick by the time she got out of there.”
Victoria serves as a youth ambassador for the Dysautonomia Youth Network of America, a Waldorf, Md.,-based nonprofit organization offering support and services for children affected by autonomia diseases.
“I really want to go on now to tell everyone about the organization and how I've managed to do all of this,” she said. “I really hope to inspire people with POTS and let them know you can do whatever you want, if you set your mind to it.”
Victoria is preparing for the pageant in Anaheim but is unsure if she will be able to make the trip.
Christine Piekut said flying is difficult for Victoria, because of changes in air pressure. If the Piekuts travel to Anaheim, Christine Piekut said, they would need to arrive several days before the pageant to allow Victoria to recover from traveling.
Regardless, Victoria said she is proud to have brought attention to POTS.
“I've been so blessed to be able to be well enough to do this,” she said. “I'm glad I could speak about it and give hope to others and let them know they can do what they want to do.”
Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or firstname.lastname@example.org.