Lupus Patient Thrives Because of Top Notch Care
Henry Garza knew his daughter Rachael wasn’t well, but doctors didn’t know what to make of the long bouts of fevers, fatigue, and swelling she was experiencing. After many visits to the emergency room and exhaustive tests during a six-month period, Rachael, then 17-years old, was diagnosed with lupus, a complex autoimmune disease.
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because it affects each individual differently. It has a wide and variable array of symptoms that often mimic other diseases. And, because the disease can flare up or lie dormant, symptoms come and go. Even the tell-tale butterfly-shaped rash that frequently marks the bridge of the nose and the cheeks of lupus patients occurs only when the disease is active and manifests in many, but not, all lupus patients.
After her diagnosis, Rachael’s symptoms continued to worsen, and she received chemotherapy to suppress the over-activity of her immune system, a reaction caused by the lupus. She began to improve, and sought treatment from a rheumatologist, who put her on a regimen to keep the disease in check, but a few months later the severe symptoms returned and she had to endure another round of chemotherapy. Garza explains that a small illness can be a catalyst for lupus flare-ups. He says, “If she catches a cold or anything like that, she has to take care of it quickly. If it’s not treated right, it will trigger the butterfly—the lupus will flare up again.”
Over the course of eight months, Rachael spent approximately four months in the ICU and experienced four close calls. During this time, the Garzas were constantly at Rachael’s side. Garza was touched to see the tender concern of the staff caring for his daughter. He relates an experience that occurred after his daughter had been in the hospital for several months. She was hooked up to many IVs and tubes, and Boaz Markewitz, M.D. insisted that some sunshine and fresh air would do Rachael good. Garza couldn’t believe that with the condition she was in, with all the tubes she was hooked up to, and the trouble it was going to take, that the doctor would go to such lengths to lift Rachael’s spirits. The nurses, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Garza, took Rachael outside for 30 minutes. “It was unbelievable,” says Garza. “It made a difference.”
Finally in December 2003, Rachael was able to go home. She slowly continued to improve and gain strength and by 2005, her life started returning to normal. However, the complications that she experienced in 2003 due to lupus had been extremely taxing on her kidneys, and in 2010, she was back in the hospital for a kidney transplant. The kidney she received was a perfect match, and now, a year and a half later, Rachael is thriving. She was married in June, to a man Garza describes as her other perfect match, and she is working part time. Rachael says, “I’ve been well enough to be married, well enough to receive a kidney and have it be working, and to me it’s amazing. Because I remember my parents telling me that the doctors didn’t think I would live a normal life, even if I survived all this. And to me, my life is pretty normal! I’m just thankful to be here and see my family grow, and to experience my own family.”
When Garza reflects on his time with Rachael at University of Utah Hospital, he recalls so many individuals who showed his family not only top-notch care, but also compassion and kindness. He says, “University of Utah Hospital is a great hospital in all senses of the word, but to me it feels like a home. Whenever I walk inside, I feel comfortable, I feel safe, I feel good. I feel like I’m going to get what I need there.”
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