Then other problems started. The years of high-dose steroids had led to avascular necrosis of the hips and knees. Barely out of her teens, Bridget now found herself using crutches and a wheelchair. Orthopedic surgeons didn’t want to replace her joints, however, worried that at her age it would contribute to further bone-density declines.
Finally, she found Daniel J. Wallace, MD, clinical professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles and an international leader in lupus research and clinical care. “He totally changed my life,” Bridget says of Dr. Wallace. He referred her to an orthopedic surgeon who told her she was “too young not to be able to walk, you need to start living,” and replaced her right hip. Five years later, at age 28, he replaced the left one.
In the meantime, Dr. Wallace worked to get the lupus under control. He tried azathioprine, but it caused severe thrombocytopenia. She had one treatment with nitrogen mustard—which Dr. Wallace later published as a case study.1 By this time, Bridget weighed 200 pounds from excess fluid, and her feet were so swollen she couldn’t wear shoes.
Finally, Dr. Wallace tried cyclosporine. “It changed my life,” Bridget says. Her kidney function improved, the swelling disappeared, and the weight fell off. She got a real estate license and began working. She had, for the first time, a relatively normal life.
Eventually, she was able to manage her condition with antihypertension medication alone. But in 2005, her creatine levels abruptly spiked. It was time, her nephrologist told her, to consider a kidney transplant.
Luckily, two sisters and her brother (the only boy among the five siblings), were perfect matches. Her brother, unmarried and childless, was the choice. The surgery occurred on January 27, 2006. “I look at it as my second birthday,” says Bridget. With the kidney transplant, the lupus also went into remission. Today the only drugs she takes are the antirejection drugs tacrolimus and mycophenolate mofetil. “I truly feel from my heart that it’s a miracle that I’m still here,” she says.
A Way to Give Back
And she wants to give back. So when her sister Barbara stumbled on information about SisSLE while visiting a lupus website and told Bridget about it, Bridget jumped at the chance to participate. Unfortunately, of the three unaffected Hood sisters Barbara is the only one still young enough to participate in the study (participants must be 35 or younger).