Lupus sufferer here hoping to help others with disease

Published 5:14 pm Wednesday, October 1, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- Many people don't even know it exists. Yet, one out of every 185 Americans is affected by Lupus.
The Lupus Foundation of America says more people have Lupus than AIDS, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis combined.
So, what is Lupus, and why do people seemingly know so little about it?
The Lupus Foundation of America defines Lupus as a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack the body's own healthy cells, which causes inflammation, injury to tissues and pain.
Lupus is basically the complete opposite of AIDS, a disease that slows down the immune system to the point where attacks on the body's sick cells are greatly reduced.
Sally Irons, a Niles High School computer class teacher, was finally diagnosed with Lupus in the fall of 1995 after having consulted different doctors over several years.
Irons is among 1,5 million people in the U.S., mostly woman, who are affected by the disease.
Each day Lupus causes countless people worldwide to remain in bed because of aches and pains, fatigue, swelling of joints and head aches.
Irons, however, has been able to keep working despite having Lupus.
During October, which is National Lupus Awareness Month, Irons, who is a member of the South Bend/Michiana Branch of the Lupus Alliance of America, will reach out to the public to spread more knowledge about the disease.
To illustrate measures she takes to avoid Lupus flares, Irons said she can't stay under fluorescent light while teaching in a classroom because of her photosensitivity, which is among the 11 symptoms used to diagnose Lupus. "If I have that fluorescent light all day, I'm whipped when I get home," she said.
Doctors, however, don't typically recommend testing for Lupus unless a person has four or more of the 11 symptoms, she said.
Outdoor activities such as moving the grass on a sunny day, or spending a sunny afternoon on the beach are also off-limit activities for Irons.
Although Lupus can cause serious and even life threatening problems, for most people Lupus is mild, affecting only a few body organs.
Irons, a mother-of-four, considers herself lucky compared to other people affected by the disease because her actual organ health is OK and she is able to keep working. Most people who don't know Irons has Lupus, would probably think spending too much time in the sun has given her her light red facial complexion.
But it isn't as bad news to get diagnosed with Lupus these days as it was 10 to 15 years ago, when Lupus was classified a fatal disease, Irons said.
She said people are diagnosed sooner these days and medicine is prolonging the lives of Lupus victims.
Irons has learned to live with Lupus and takes the necessary precautions to avoid Lupus flares.
She said avoiding stress, getting plenty of sleep, taking extra vitamins and eating healthy makes her life better.
The Lupus Alliance of America's South Bend/Michiana branch is having a "Come See Who We Are" meeting on Oct. 12 at the Hampton Inn and Suites in South Bend Ind.
The event goes from 1 p.m to 4 p.m.