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SALT LAKE CITY — A rare blood disease has been brought to light during the investigation of the woman involved with the shooting that killed Draper Police Sgt. Derek Johnson.
Traci Villaincourt and alleged gunman, Timothy Troy Walker, were hospitalized during the shooting incident that occurred Sunday. Investigators have talked to family members of the individuals and high school photos of Villaincourt showed a stark contrast to her present appearance.
Villaincourt's sister, Victoria King, said Villaincourt was previously a model and a "striking beauty." However, Villaincourt developed a genetic disorder that caused her body to swell. King said their father also had the blood disease known as hereditary angioedema.
Dr. Doug Jones specializes in treating the disorder. He said the disease can completely transform a person's appearance. Jones said the disorder develops when the body doesn't produce a protein found in the blood stream.
"When we don't make C1-Inhibitor, there are things that cause the body to randomly swell," Jones said.
Jones said as the body retains fluid, swelling can occur in the mouth, feet, and even throat.
Salt Lake City resident Dawn Wright said she also has the disorder. She believes she inherited it from her father.
"I have weight gain," Wright said. "Sometimes, I won't open the door because I look strange — swollen. It does it instantly."
The use of medication to treat hereditary angioedema was first used in 2008. Before then, a patient's only option was to wait for the swelling to subside.
"We would hospitalize patients and often give them narcotics or morphine just to get them through the pain," Jones said.
Jones said that often patients become addicted to the pain medication prescribed for the disorder. King said that is what happened to her sister.
It's a rare disease and up to 1 in 50,000 people in the U.S. are undiagnosed, according to the Hereditary Angioedema Association. Jones said physicians often treat the symptoms as an allergy.
Wright said for years she thought she was allergic to dogs, milk, and even exercise until she was properly diagnosed.
A total of four medications have been approved within the past five years as a treatment for the disorder; however, treatment is expensive. Wright said during 2013 alone, she will pay more than $60,000.
However, the Hereditary Angioedma Association works to assist patients in finding local physicians and ways to pay for medications.