fter Sharon Harris was told she had lupus, walking to her car at Henry Ford Hospital she balled up her fist and declared, “I’m gonna fight this.”
Since her diagnosis, Harris has found a way to powerfully impact the lives of others. She’s now the public relations director for the Lupus Alliance of America Michigan Indiana (LAAMI), a nonprofit that supports people with the ailment. After working with her boss, Executive Director Chuck Pottenger, on a proposal for a free lupus clinic, the two presented the idea to Henry Ford Health System’s head of rheumatology and director of philanthropy in January. An agreement was reached to partner on the Lupus Cooperative clinic, scheduled to begin operating by summer 2012.
This will be the only clinic of its kind in Detroit. It will house dermatologists, nephrologists and rheumatologists who specialize in the needs of lupus patients, and it will provide transportation for mobility -challenged patients. All services will be free.
“I have literally been doing everything I can to fight this, not just for me, but for other people too. Because that’s what God told me to do,” Harris says.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes your body to attack its healthy tissue and organs. According to WomensHealth.gov, a federal government web site, the cause is unknown and no cure has yet been found. Black women are three times more likely to have lupus than White women. It is most often diagnosed in women between ages 15 and 44.
There are two forms-discoid or lupus of the skin and systematic or lupus of the blood. Harris falls among the one percent of lupus patients who have both.
Her experience with lupus has been tumultuous. At age 22, instead of enjoying the independence of a college graduate, she found herself flaring with excruciating pain shooting through her entire body. Eventually she had to sleep in a bed with her mother, Sandra Harris, so she could help turn her over when her daughter needed to go to the bathroom.
“It feels like a pack of wolves are tearing you apart. Everything on you hurts, your baby toe, your ear, everything,” says a tearful Harris.
Now 32, she no longer refers to herself as a patient. She explains, “Patient means one who suffers, but we are survivors.”
To remind people with lupus that they are survivors and to inform others about the disease, Harris has created a T-shirt line called Pretty Disabled and will host a launch party at the Virgil H. Carr Cultural Arts Center on Apr. 2, 2011, starting at 6 p.m.
“Being disabled is such a small portion of who we are,” says Harris. “I’m starting the revolution with the warriors, from the inside out.”