LUPUS (LOO•puss, n.): A chronic autoimmune disease in which the body develops antibodies that react against its own normal tissue. More than 2 million people in the United States have the condition, more than cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis combined. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, swollen or painful joints, fever, rashes and kidney problems.
Yessenia Wallace says she never heard the word lupus until her doctor diagnosed her with the disorder in April 2005. “I started to realize that every time I got sick, whether it was a cold or something more serious, I would have a lot of pain and feel unbelievably tired,” the Gift of Hope Advocates for Hope volunteer relates. “My hair even started to fall out. After years of medications and doctor visits, I thought I was finally in the clear.”
She wasn’t. She was hospitalized in 2011 for congestive heart failure, and doctors discovered that her function had dropped significantly. “They believe the lupus caused it,” Yessenia explains. “I was already in Stage 3 kidney failure.”
Her kidney function continued to fall precipitously, from 25 percent to 15 percent in three months. “Dialysis and transplantation were my only options,” she says. “This was easily the most difficult thing I have ever gone through. I remember being so scared and confused as to what my future would hold.”
Now with her lupus under control, the 25-year-old newlywed undergoes daily dialysis treatments and is approaching one year on the kidney transplant waiting list.
“I am so grateful to have a wonderful support system,” Yessenia says. She singles out her husband, Cory, whom she married last September, as being unbelievably supportive. “The entire time we’ve been together he has seen me struggle with kidney disease. He works at the hospital where my testing is done, and it’s so nice that whenever I’m in the hospital he can be with me.”
As soon as she turned 18, long before she became ill or needed a transplant, Yessenia signed up to be an organ and tissue donor “to give someone a second chance or even just to set a good example. It’s amazing how many people don’t know about it. There are 5,000 people just in Illinois who need transplants.”
Her health problems have shown her how important donation is. “So many people need this to give them life again. It brings me to tears to think that someone out there might give me the chance to live a normal life. I’m one of 5,000 people in Illinois waiting for another chance. Every time I see someone’s transplant success story, I think to myself, ‘Thank you, God, for sending us another miracle.’ That’s exactly what donation is, a miracle.”