HANCOCK - When Michele Kerban was a child, she had trouble keeping up with her siblings, but she really didn't think much of it until 1995.
Kerban said 15 years ago after experiencing swelling in a hand, she was diagnosed as having lupus, and it put her difficulties as a child in perspective.
"I think I've had lupus most of my life," she said. "I felt like a weakling."
Dr. Mary Haller of Portage Health examines Michele Kerban, who learned 15 years ago that she had lupus. (Houghton Daily Mining Gazette photo by Kurt Hauglie)
Lupus is an autoimmune disease which can affect the body's organs, joints and connective tissue. Effects include pain and severe fatigue.
The 66-year-old Kerban said she was a teacher when she was diagnosed with lupus at 51 years old. Eventually, the disease made it too difficult to do her job of 30 years.
"I quit teaching when I was 54," she said. "I cried for 13 days. That was my identity."
Kerban said her family doctor did some tests, which indicated a possible lupus diagnosis.
"I had no idea what lupus was," she said. "The first thing I wanted to know -was I going to die. They said not necessarily."
Kerban said after being diagnosed with the disease she learned a lot about what it is. She learned it affects different people in different ways.
In August 1995, Kerban said her family doctor suggested she visit a rheumatologist, or specialist in internal medicine, to discover if she did indeed have lupus.
Kerban became a patient of Dr. Mary Haller at Portage Health in Hancock, who performed several more tests and determined lupus was the cause of her problems.
"The immune system is sending the wrong signals to the body," she said. "Something in the self is recognized as foreign."
Autoantibodies begin to do their job, which is destroying foreign substances, but they do it on healthy parts of the body, including joints, organs, skin and connective tissue, Haller said.
Although some lupus patients have varying degrees of pain, Haller said simply moving through the day is the main problem for most sufferers.
"Fatigue is the biggest thing people complain about," she said.