Lupus is an autoimmune disease that causes your body’s immune system to attack your tissues and organs. Difficult to diagnose, Lupus can remain dormant in an individual’s body, only to be “woken up” by an illness or major surgery. This was the case for Leah Crocker. In 2000, Leah had just undergone carpal tunnel surgery on both hands but wasn’t healing properly. At this time, her orthopedic surgeon suggested she consult a rheumatologist. Upon seeing a rheumatologist her blood work came back positive for Lupus.
A disease with no cure, Lupus is managed through treatments that help patients control their symptoms. Soon after her diagnosis Leah began experiencing numbness in her fingers. This issue was identified as Raynaud’s phenomenon, a common symptom of Lupus. Raynaud’s is a condition that results in the discoloration of the fingers and toes in response to cold temperature or stress. During this time, Leah was prescribed an anti-malaria drug to help. However, her condition would soon grow worse when she discovered that gangrene had set into two of her fingers. At the time she had a choice between amputation or chemotherapy. Leah chose to undergo chemotherapy, which she continued for several years.
Despite undergoing treatment for Raynaud’s, because of the severity of her condition her rheumatologist strongly recommended that she relocate to a warmer climate to reduce the chances of her condition worsening. For Lupus patients in similar situations Leah advises, “Know your limitations and live within them.” So, in 2007 she made the move from her home state of New Jersey to start a new life in Georgia. After relocating to Georgia Leah connected with a new rheumatologist Sam Lim at Emory University School of Medicine.
This is when her clinical trial journey began. Leah credits Dr. Lim for encouraging her to get involved in clinical trials. The first study she joined was The Georgians Organized Against Lupus study, led by Dr. Lim at Emory University in 2013. The goal of this study is to better understand the burdens of Lupus. Leah has been involved in this study for the past several years, participating in in-person visits once a year and completing an online questionnaire twice a year. Leah also participated in another trial for Raynaud’s in 2015. This trial was studying the effects of Botox on individuals with Raynaud’s. As part of the trial she was asked to hold her hands under cold water and receive Botox injections. Despite the challenging experience, Leah is happy to have participated in this trial.
An experienced clinical trial volunteer, Leah’s advice to those thinking of participating is, “Just do it.” At the time of her diagnosis there were fewer medications available for individuals like Leah. Today, thanks to clinical trial volunteers, there is newfound hope for the Lupus community. To find trials for Lupus in your area visit CISCRP’s Search Clinical Trials page. For more information about Lupus, treatments, clinical trials, community forum and other educational information, please visit www.lupusresearch.org