Heidi Richardson Evans headed to the walk-in clinic seeking relief for a nasty case of bronchitis.
She walked away with the answer to a question she'd been asking almost her entire life - a name or something to explain the set of physical traits she possessed that she believed were connected.
The most obvious is the malformed right arm that ends near her elbow. But there are others. Heidi was born with an extra kidney. She had reproductive abnormalities that had to be corrected with surgery. The whites of her eyes have a blue tinge. She has tiny cataracts, and she has scoliosis that causes debilitating pain.
No doctor ever connected all of these anomalies, until the doctor walked into the treatment room at the clinic this past April, looked at Heidi and asked, "Phocomelia?"
Heidi was confused. The doctor, a handsome dark-skinned man who spoke with an accent, looked back with surprise that she hadn't heard the term before.
Together, they Googled "phocomelia syndrome" on his iPhone. And Heidi, 36, read over the list of symptoms the syndrome can include - yes, yes, yes, she ticked off.
Not only that, but she learned the genetic mutation that causes the syndrome has been pinpointed to an exact chromosomal location: 8p21.1. By some estimates, only a dozen babies are born with the syndrome each year.
Heidi recalls tearfully thanking the doctor.
"He was brilliant," she said.
Knowing the name for her genetic anomalies doesn't fix Heidi's back, give her a fully functioning arm or change anything about her physical being.
But in a way, it's like being an adopted child who always wondered about her family history. It's an answer.
And for the woman who became an accomplished artist and writer, it's provided a lesson in gratitude.
Because the more Heidi read, the more she realized it could have been worse.
Most babies born with phocomelia syndrome have mental impairments, often severe. Most have at least two limbs - or all four - affected.
In a piece Heidi wrote last month for the group weblog project at bandbacktogether.com, which focuses on health issues, she reflected on the diagnosis:
"My perspective does a dizzying 180: I have not lost the 'genetic lottery.' I am actually the luckiest person with phocomelia ever. It hurts a little to walk today, but I can walk. My IQ is high enough to be geeking out over genes and marveling at statistics. My face is pretty, unaffected. My spine - I get tears looking at the spines of these genetic lottery sisters - the spine that gets me so whiny/bitchy is so much better than it could be.
"My left hand skips over the keyboard and the little twinges of arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome are a wonder. This hand, shaped exactly like my mother's, and sized exactly the same, is my focus.
"It feels like a treasure and waves of gratitude to the Universe/God/Goddess/Random Chance pour from me."
Vicky Richardson had not taken the morning sickness drug Thalidomide, which later was found to cause birth defects. In fact, she had taken no drugs during her pregnancy. She didn't smoke. She didn't consume alcohol.
Heidi said her parents told her that when she was born in April 1976, doctors at first wouldn't let Vicky or Ray Richardson see her. Her mother was terrified. What was wrong?
When they finally handed the blue-eyed baby girl to her, her mother breathed a sigh of relief.
"Is that all?"
Pam Whittinghill, Vicky's sister, recalls being at the hospital that day.
"The first time I saw her, she was maybe 15 minutes old, and the doctor let me go back to see her. Vicky had this little bundle. She opened up the little blanket and said, 'Oh, Pam, look at what we've got.'"
And they both stood there looking at the baby's beautiful blue eyes.
"That baby absolutely zinged me. Heidi and I have always been close," Pam recalled. Since Vicky died 11 years ago, she has considered herself a second mom.
"Her parents made the decision that 'if we don't tell her she's disabled, she won't be disabled - that was a word they never used," Pam said.
Ray said it may have started as a conscious decision, but his daughter got no special treatment because "she didn't need it."
"The fact of the matter is that Heidi's personality was such that she rarely asked for any accommodations. Mostly she figured out how to make do. She was tying her shoes, and her brother still wanted Velcro straps.
"About the only thing I did was switch the brake handles around on her bicycle. Her left hand, where her strength is, needed to be able to stop the back wheel and not the front," he said.
Heidi was raised in Dunbar, where one of her first memories related to her right arm is her mom helping her put on a coat over her cast. She'd had surgery on the malformed arm, to help make it more functional. Because of the surgery, which involved removing a tendon from her leg, she has pincer ability on that side.
"I remember them saying, 'God makes everyone different,' the things any good parents would say," she said.
Later in grade school, her scoliosis was diagnosed and doctors wanted to fit her with a corrective brace. Heidi refused - a decision she now regrets - and her parents didn't force the issue. She didn't want to be the kid with the weird arm and a brace.
Heidi said if she got picked on in school, it wasn't for her appearance but because "I was a brainy smart ass."
Friends expected her to be one of them.
At 17, when she balked at the idea of playing a game of pool, a boyfriend said, "Yes, you can. You can do everything."