AUGUSTA, Ga. – What was first thought to be a carpal tunnel issue turned out be a life-changing diagnosis for Jenell Gardenhire.
“My hand and wrist were hurting, and doctors put a brace on my arm. I also had some injections,” said Gardenhire, then age 17. But the pain continued, and she was always feeling tired. So her pediatrician tested her, and it turned out to be lupus, a chronic, autoimmune disease in which the body attacks itself, damaging the skin, joints, kidneys and blood.
You can hear from patients affected by lupus and medical specialists who treat the disease at the annual Augusta Living with Lupus Symposium from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 22 at the Georgia Regents University Alumni Center.
Symptoms vary from fatigue and rashes to hair loss, mouth and nose ulcers, and anemia. Other problems can include lung or heart inflammation, arthritis and blood clots. It’s often called the disease with a thousand faces, because you never know how it will manifest itself.
Since being diagnosed six years ago, Gardenhire has experienced kidney trouble, joint pain, and frequent bouts of fatigue. But she did not let it keep her from graduating from John S. Davidson Fine Arts School and Georgia Southern University.
“My experience has been up and down. I never know how I’m going to feel when I wake up,” said the 23-year-old elementary school teacher. “But I’ve had a lot of great support so far,” she says, giving credit to her faith, friends, and family, including a cousin who also has the disease.
In addition, her support system includes the experts at the Georgia Regents Lupus Multi-Specialty Clinic. “They explain things well and answer all of my questions. The doctors and nurses work together to treat me, and that’s one of the reasons that I am able to cope,” said Gardenhire.
The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans have a form of lupus, and the disease affects 10 times as many women as men. There is no cure and treatment can be challenging.
“But there is hope for lupus sufferers, and that’s the message we want to share with patients and caregivers at our upcoming event,” said Dr. Alyce Oliver, a rheumatologist at Georgia Regents Medical Center and an Associate Professor in GRU’s Medical College of Georgia. “There are effective drugs and treatments that can improve a patient’s quality of life.”
For more information or to register for the Living with Lupus Symposium, call the Lupus Foundation of America’s Georgia Chapter at 770-333-5930 or visit lupusga.org.