Two Girls, 11 and 13, Inspire National Project to Increase Awareness of a Disease Affecting 1.5 Million Americans
It was their love of sports and athletic competition that bonded the friendship between two young female athletes ages 11 and 13. However, it was the autoimmune disease lupus that brought Aiden Gallagher and Una-Marie Antczak together to become advocates with Olympic Gold Medalist Kerri Strug for greater understanding of the disease, and to launch a national effort to raise awareness of lupus.
While undergoing treatment for lupus, which causes inflammation and tissue damage to various parts of the body, Aiden and Una-Marie made a pact to do whatever they could to educate the public about the potentially devastating health effects of this chronic disease. The girls decided the best way to accomplish their goal was to distribute the official national wristbands for lupus to tell people “someone you know has lupus.” Approximately 1.5 million Americans, mostly women, have a form of the disease.
They contacted the Lupus Foundation of America about their goal to distribute wristbands to their friends and classmates and begin what the girls hope will become a national movement to boost visibility for a disease that has not received much attention. Their efforts immediately captured the attention of Olympic Gold Medalist Kerri Strug, who serves as a national sports celebrity for the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA).
Inspired by the girls’ determination and endurance, Kerri Strug wanted to encourage the girls to believe in their goal, just as she did to overcome a painful injury and help her team gymnastics capture the Olympic gold medal during the 1996 Atlanta games. On December 16, at the Hospital for Special Surgery, Aiden and Una-Marie presented Kerri with the first official national wristband for lupus during a media event at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.
Una-Marie and Aiden share a love of athletics. Una-Marie is an avid figure skater and Aiden plays softball, soccer and rides horses. Due to lupus-related fatigue and joint pain, and the side effects of the medicines they must take to combat the disease, both girls have had to forego their athletic endeavors, for the time being. However, in the minds of others with lupus, the girls already are gold medal champions.
Ironically, while the girls had never met before they were diagnosed with lupus, their mothers were friends for many years. Neither mother, however, was aware that they each had a child with lupus until Aiden’s mother learned from another family member that her friend’s daughter was very ill. Now the two mothers support each other as their children receive identical treatment protocols to manage the disease, which includes cyclophosphamide and rituximab, two drugs also used to treat cancer.
Lupus is not as common in children as it is in adults. However, people with lupus in this age group often are required to begin aggressive therapy soon after diagnosis, according to the girls’ pediatric rheumatologist, Dr. Thomas J. A. Lehman, Chief of Pediatric Rheumatology at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Lehman also is a member of the Lupus Foundation of America Medical/Scientific Advisory Council.
Aiden, of Poughkeepsie, New York, and Una-Marie, of Bayonne, New Jersey, plan to distribute the official national wristbands for lupus at their respective schools to increase awareness and raise funds to support lupus research, education, and services of the Lupus Foundation of America. Purple is the official color of the LFA, the nation’s leading nonprofit voluntary health organization dedicated to finding the causes and cure for lupus.
Wristbands also will be distributed though the Lupus Foundation of America’s national network of 250 chapters, branches and support groups, as well as through the LFA’s website. Click here to purchase the official national wristbands for $1, sold in packages of 25, 50, 100 and 250.