In September, pop sensation Selena Gomez announced via Instagram that she had undergone a kidney transplant as a result of damage from living with lupus. “Lupus continues to be very misunderstood, but progress is being made,” the star posted on the social media site.1
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When rheumatologist Irene Blanco, MD, MS, heard about Ms. Gomez’s post, her first thought was about how brave the 25-year-old singer is. The thought was powerful enough for Dr. Blanco, who is an attending rheumatologist at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y., to comment on Ms. Gomez’s post.
“I’m sure she put this out there to be an example to other patients with lupus, and it was brave,” says Dr. Blanco. “I thought what she did was wonderful. It really opened up the discussion: ‘If you need a transplant, you can still be in your 20s—young, beautiful—and live your life to the fullest—with a transplant. You can still bounce back; you can still release an album; you can still go on tour.’”
Of course, most of the 1.5 million people in the U.S. living with lupus won’t release a musical album or go on tour in the next few years.2 But rheumatologists say that when an A-list celebrity, such as Selena Gomez, makes viral news because of their rheumatic disease, patients who similarly suffer can relate. Celebrity stories like these can become teachable moments for rheumatologists, who can prepare themselves for questions from patients who have heard the news about Ms. Gomez and others. Also, rheumatologic advocacy groups can use the news to promote awareness, which can help draw attention to a field in need of increased specialists, more research money and better public understanding.
It’s also a chance for rheumatologists to work with primary care physicians (PCPs) and help them learn more about lupus because many patients first dealing with rheumatic diseases first see a PCP. “These kinds of stories should say to [PCPs], ‘Hey, I need to get up to speed on lupus,’” says rheumatologist Susan Manzi, MD, MPH, chair of the Department of Medicine at Allegheny Health Network of Pittsburgh, and medical director of the Lupus Foundation of America. “More and more primary care physicians are coming to specialists and wanting to be educated about [lupus].”
Patients may also have the same reaction and desire more education. Of course, Dr. Blanco, a member of the ACR’s Collaborative Initiatives’ Lupus Self-Management Workgroup, lays out potential outcomes for all of her patients. But it’s different when a patient sees those same outcomes cascade through their Facebook or Twitter feeds.