NEWS

Weed woman lives with lupus, raising awareness

Skye Kinkade
April Alvarado has lived with lupus since the age of 11. Though she was told that she wouldn’t be able to have children after four years of chemotherapy, April now has two daughters: five month-old Kate and five year-old Hannah.

Each year, an estimated 16,000 Americans will develop lupus, an auto-immune disease that causes the body to attack its own tissues and organs as well as foreign substances and invaders. April Alvarado, a lifelong resident of Weed has lived with lupus for the past 16 years.

“I want to raise public awareness of lupus,” April says. “Lots of people have heard of it, but they don’t really know what it is.”

According to the Lupus Foundation of America (LFS), lupus can affect various organs, including the skin, joints, lungs, blood, kidneys, and brain.

When April was 11, she attended basketball camp at COS. Soon after, she developed a butterfly-shaped rash on her face, which she initially mistook for a sunburn. When the rash wouldn’t fade, April’s  parents took her to the doctor.

It turns out that the butterfly rash is one of the classic signs of lupus. April was given an ANA (antinuclear antibody) blood test, which is used to diagnose lupus and certain other auto-immune diseases. “The test came up positive, and that’s when I was diagnosed,” April said.

Thinking back, April says she never felt well as a child. “Growing up, I lived on Tylenol... I was always feeling sick and achy.”

When April was 14, it was discovered that the disease was attacking her kidneys. “My kidneys were spilling a lot of protein,” April said. “I tried all kinds of treatments through the University of California at San Francisco.” April took kidney reduction pills, but the treatments weren’t successful.

In order to stop the attack on her kidneys, April began Cytoxan treatments, which is a form of chemotherapy. “The treatments were awful,” April said. “They took about an hour each time, and it took two or three days to get back to normal after them.”

April continued the Cytoxan for four years, the entire time she was in high school. They caused her to lose her hair, and they also stunted her growth. Doctors told her the treatments would make her unable to have children in the future. “The Cytoxan was awful, but they worked. They saved my life... without them, I wouldn’t be sitting here today,” said April.

To her surprise, April found out she was pregnant six years ago. At the time, she didn’t think she’d be able to have the baby. Fortunately, April was in remission and doctors told her that she could continue the pregnancy. Hannah is now five years old.

April became pregnant again last year, and gave birth to a second daughter, Kate. “I wasn’t in remission during my second pregnancy,” April said. “Things were a lot more difficult. Because of the lupus, Kate quit growing in utero... she was born six weeks premature.” Kate weighed only 2 pounds 13 ounces when she was born, but has grown to be a healthy and happy five month-old.

Today, April said she feels good some days, and bad others. “It’s a weird disease, because it does so many different things,” she said. She still has to avoid the sun, eat well, and exercise to take care of herself. “Because my immune system is suppressed, it’s really important that I try not to get sick. It takes me a lot longer to fight things off. Even cuts take a long time for my body to heal,” April said. She still has achy days, and has developed arthritic symptoms in her joints. “Lupus causes fatigue... I’m tired a lot.  Strange things happen all the time; right now, I don’t have circulation in my fingers,” she said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

April still goes to UCSF each year to get a checkup and participate in lupus studies conducted there. “Research has come a long way,” she said. The studies she’s involved in are to find ways to treat the symptoms of lupus, and improve quality of life for people who have the disease.

Between 1.5 and 2 million people in the United States are thought to have some form of lupus, according  to the LFA website. More than 90% of them are women diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 44.

The cause of lupus is still unknown. Research suggests that lupus may be hereditary, although it hasn’t been proved scientifically. In addition, certain environmental factors may trigger lupus, such as extreme stress, exposure to ultra-violet light, certain prescriptions and antibiotics, infection, or hormones.

Lupus is a chronic disease, and there is currently no cure. While some cases of lupus are relatively mild, others cause  serious and potentially fatal medical conditions.

While April’s case is by no means mild, she is also very lucky in that she was diagnosed at such a young age. “I’m doing well today, especially compared to when I was younger,” April said. “I try to have a positive attitude about it.”

On Friday, Oct. 24, April will be at Casa Bella Hair Studio, to celebrate October as Lupus Awareness Month. Casa Bella, which is located at 219 Main Street in Weed, is sponsoring an event to help bring Lupus Awareness to the public. They will be serving refreshments and selling purple Lupus bracelets to raise money for a donation to LFA.

If you’d like to learn more about lupus, or find other ways to help, you may visit the LFA website at www.lupus.org.