Born with a rare birth defect resulting in more than 30 surgeries, an MTSU graduate looks to shed light on the disease with a documentary and a little support from Rutherford County citizens.
MTSU alumna Jasmine “Jaz” Gray is preparing a documentary, “More Than Skin Deep,” about her struggles with an Arteriovenous Malformation. (Photo submitted)
Jasmine Gray was no ordinary student when she came to MTSU. In fact, by every definition of the word she is rather extraordinary.
“When I was born, my tongue was swollen and I had a birthmark on my face,” Gray said of the origins of a disease that would take hold of her just a few years later.
Arteriovenous Malformation is a rare disease affecting less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. Its damage is vast and the possibility of bleeding to death is highly likely.
Normally, the human body pumps blood from the heart through arteries to the brain. Upon reaching the brain, blood moves through the body in capillaries, which provide essential nutrients to the rest of the body before traveling through veins and back to the heart for oxygen.
With AVM, capillaries are absent. Blood travels directly from the heart and brain to veins at rapid speed without capillaries to slow it down, which causes blood vessels to expand leading to disfigurement, seizures, and other problems in the body, according to Gray’s website.
“I’ve had to have part of my jaw removed and the inside of my cheek removed, lots of incidence with bleeding, and all of the emotional issues that go along with it,” Gray said, pointing out the disease often takes hold in puberty, a time already emotionally difficult for many.
Gray spent her high school days at home focusing on her school work as she was having issues with her disease and countless surgeries, but she does not seem sad or heartbroken about events she missed.
Instead she is inspiring and hopeful, speaking with gracious ease.
She came to MTSU in 2006 to study journalism. During her time at the university she did more than focus on her studies, she chose to get involved in the community.
Gray was a member of the Student Government Association of MTSU and Up Til Dawn, which organizes fundraising events for St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
She even started her own organization called Jaz’s Jammies, which collects pajamas for kids in hospitals and homeless shelters.
“I was able to learn and grow around the community,” Gray said.
She graduated at the top of her class, receiving the President’s Award, the highest honor for academic achievement and service.
Gray has since gone on to get a Masters Degree in Television and Film preparing to bring all of her experience together in a documentary called, “More Than Skin Deep.”
“I’m really looking forward to this project because it brings to light the medical condition,” Gray said enthusiastically.
The documentary will follow two individuals with AVM as they undergo life altering events both emotionally and physically. Gray will document a 70-year-old woman and a boy in the eighth grade.
“This disorder takes off when you hit puberty. I’m going to have the opportunity to tell his story and give him some encouragement,” Gray said.
Documentaries can be expensive to make and Gray is looking to fundraise $5,000 for “More Than Skin Deep.” In two weeks time, Gray received an outpouring of support raising $4,000 toward the documentary.
“We are encouraging people to get involved in their community, think twice about how they look at other people, and it’s starting to have an impact on people’s lives,” Gray said.
With another $1,000 to raise, Gray has set up a website, morethanskindeep.me, where people can view the trailer and donate in varying increments from $5 to $1,000.
Whatever the amount, Gray said she is thankful for donations and is offering incentives for people who donate, which include having your name listed in the credits on screen or even being listed as a producer.
“It’s important for people in our community to remember that no matter what’s going in your life, God can use you to be a blessing in someone else’s life so just keep pushing forward,” Gray said.