Von Hippel-Lindau disease, which afflicts many family members, can cause tumors in the eyes, ears, pancreas, kidney, brain and spine. Roughly three-fourths of the affected McCoys have pheochromocytomas — tumors of the adrenal gland.
The small, bubbly-looking orange adrenal gland sits atop each kidney and makes adrenaline and substances called catecholamines. Too much can cause high blood pressure, pounding headaches, heart palpitations, facial flushing, nausea and vomiting. There is no cure for the disease, but removing the tumors before they turn cancerous can improve survival.
Affected family members have long been known to be combative, even with their kin. Reynolds recalled her grandfather, "Smallwood" McCoy.
"When he would come to visit, everyone would run and hide. They acted like they were scared to death of him. He had a really bad temper," she said.