By Rebecca Drew
THIS STUNNING woman is refusing to let Lupus and resulting kidney failure rule her life after her five-year battle with the auto-immune disease left her in excruciating pain unable to move – and at one point even saw her heart function drop to just TWENTY-PERCENT.
When Nicole Woodard (27) from Omaha, Nebraska, USA, went for a routine HPV vaccine in May 2013 she broke out in hives the next day and started to suffer from debilitating joint pain that spread all over her body and in the following weeks her hair started to fall out. In addition to this, Nicole’s eyesight and memory began to decline, and she would often forget how to get to places she had visited before.
Nicole found out that she was suffering with Lupus and was hospitalised as doctors tried to get her condition under control where she lost 2st 2lbs and saw her weight plummet to 9st 4lbs. Despite living with these symptoms, Nicole battled through for two-and-a-half-years and in 2016 was told she had kidney failure thanks to her condition which saw her put on dialysis and even go through three-rounds of gruelling chemotherapy to control her Lupus, to no avail.
Lupus’ symptoms affected Nicole both mentally and physically but her biggest blow came in February last year when after being on dialysis for 12 months, her condition flared up and this time targeted her heart, leaving her with chest pains and unable to breathe. Following an echocardiogram, Nicole was told her heart was functioning at just 20 percent and she was admitted to hospital the next day for pericardial window surgery on her heart.
Nicole, who works as a director of business management, now has normal heart function.
“I received the Gardasil vaccination that is supposed to protect against HPV. The very next day, I broke out in hives and swelled up everywhere like a balloon. Mind you I had never had hives a day in my life before this. Then came the joint pain,” said Nicole.
“When I say ‘joint pain’ I do not mean pain that may come from a small sprain in the leg or arm. I’m referring to excruciating pain all over the body that does not stop. The pain was so bad on some days I literally could not move.
“It was weird because the pain seemed to shift. One day, the pain would be the worst on the bottoms of my feet or ankles making it hard to walk, the next day it would be my calves, the next my hips, then my elbows, and next my wrists.
“I remember waking up in the middle of the night to use the restroom back when I still urinated, and literally dragging myself across the floor because my ankles and legs hurt too much to use them.
“I remember many days waking up and sobbing because I did not know how I would make it through the day at work, let alone dress myself that morning. My hair began falling out next. This was especially hard being a 23-year-old female. Seeing the hair you’ve spent years taking care of come out in a matter of weeks.
“My eyesight and brain became affected as well. I could not think as clear and I could not remember how to do things I had done for years. I would be driving down the road and forget where I was going or even how to get somewhere I had been to numerous times.
“Even with all these symptoms, I still kept at it. The Lupus was always affecting my kidneys so we kept an eye on it. However, in 2016, my kidney function plummeted and landed me on dialysis. We tried Chemotherapy but to no avail.
“The most difficult time of this whole journey was probably when I was diagnosed with major heart failure. This time, my heart was the organ that was targeted, I’m guessing since there was no more kidney to attack.
“I suddenly started having chest pains and wasn’t able to breathe at times. One day, on my lunch break, I went to get an Echo done of my heart. An hour later, the doctor informed me my heart was functioning at about 19-20 percent. She said I would now be admitted for some time and I would undergo heart surgery the very next morning.”
Lupus is a long term auto-immune condition for which there is no cure but symptoms can improve if treatment starts early. It causes inflammation to the joints, skin and organs and can flare up and settle down at any time.
It ranges from mild where sufferers cope with joint and skin problems and tiredness to severe, where inflammation can cause severe damage to the heart, lungs, brain or kidneys which can be life threatening.
Despite putting on a brave face throughout much of her struggles, Nicole admits that being told she had heart failure was the most difficult battle she has had to fight.
“Honestly, I did not remain positive during this time. I fell into a deep depression after this diagnosis. Mentally and physically I was at my all time lowest. All the hair and weight I had gained back in the last few years was gone even quicker,” she said.
“The Lupus, kidney failure, and dialysis were hard enough, but I was managing it. When told I not only need a kidney transplant but also now a heart transplant, I gave up on life. I faked it well though.
“To the outside world I kept a smile on my face, but deep down inside I was tearing apart. I felt as though I was trudging through mud to get through each day, but I kept going. There is no magic pill or secret to how I made it through those dark days. God is what brought me through.
“I believe there were many people praying for me during that time. It took some time, but my heart and mind healed in the next few months. I am so happy to say today, I am no longer in major heart failure and my heart is at normal function.
“After everything I’ve gone through these past few years, I feel like a whole new person. I look at life and circumstance in a whole new light now. I knew I was strong before, but I now know just how strong I really am.
“What I’ve found the most difficult is being states away from my family. I feel all this would have been much easier to deal with if I was around them. I’m really finding out how important having a strong support system around you is.”
The people who know Nicole best have described her as one of the strongest people they know. She shared her words of advice and support to others who may be facing a similar struggle.
“Just take it day by day, by day, by day. Never ever give up no matter how hard it may be. Be your own advocate for your own health and stay on top of it. No one knows your body or will care for it like you do,” she added.
“Research, research, research. Research before taking any medication even if prescribed by a Doctor. Having a strong support system is key. Keep those around you that have your best interest close.
“I also cannot stress how important rest is. Our bodies often let us know what we need. It’s up to us to listen and take heed. If you are feeling tired and out of it, rest.
“Also, just as important as rest, is removing all people and things that are negative or stressful in your life. Stress is one of the worst if not the number one cause of a Lupus flare up. It took me a long time before I listened to this and made changes.
“However, once I did, I noticed a drastic change in my symptoms and health. I honestly believe had I made those changes sooner, I would be in a different place in life. Drink lots of water and eat a balanced diet with minimal animal protein.”
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