Eastpointe-based group fights autoimmune diseases

By: Kevin Bunch | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published April 25, 2016

 Members of the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association dress in full costume during the 2015 Derby Luncheon. This year’s is scheduled for May 7 in Harrison Township.

Members of the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association dress in full costume during the 2015 Derby Luncheon. This year’s is scheduled for May 7 in Harrison Township.

Photo provided by Sharon Harris

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EASTPOINTE — For the past 25 years, the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association has been advocating nationally for those suffering from illnesses like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis, right from their offices in Eastpointe.

According to Patricia Barber, assistant executive director, AARDA got its start when founder Virginia Ladd — a lupus sufferer — was volunteering with a local lupus organization before going to Washington, D.C., to work with the Lupus Foundation of America.

“She saw that many, many of her siblings had one, two or three autoimmune diseases,” Barber said. “She thought it was time to concentrate rather than on a single tree, but on the forest of autoimmunity.”

Barber said AARDA has been focused on getting people to realize that all these individual autoimmune diseases are related, which could help with research and treatment — much in the same way that researchers and doctors look at cancers.

“A predisposition to develop autoimmune disease is genetic,” Barber said, and if one person in a family suffers from one, their blood relatives are much more likely to develop one or more autoimmune diseases themselves — not necessarily the same one, either. It can take an external stimulus like a virus, bacteria or stress to trigger the autoimmune response, wherein the body’s own immune system turns on itself, Barber explained.

About 50 million Americans suffer from some form of autoimmune disease, she added.

Kimberly Radomski is one. A longtime member and supporter of AARDA, Radomski runs an autoimmune support group out of the Henry Ford Medical Pavilion in Clinton Township, located by 19 Mile and Garfield roads. Radomski started having issues in her teens and woke up one day unable to walk. Eventually she recovered, but other symptoms and issues kept popping up, from rashes to tunnel vision.

It wasn’t until 1995 — nearly 20 years after her first attack — that a doctor correctly diagnosed her as having multiple sclerosis, or MS. She was also diagnosed with other autoimmune diseases like anemia and immune thrombocytopenic purpura. She said several of her family members have also suffered from a variety of autoimmune diseases, including an aunt who had MS and psoriasis.

Radomski said she found AARDA in 2001 and “couldn’t get enough of them” as an informational resource and advocate. About three years ago, Radomski asked if she could set up a support group for people with autoimmune diseases and received the green light; it now gets advertised on local TV, at the Clinton Township library, and with senior citizen services.

“We just try to bring awareness and education to let people know the (research and treatment into) singular diseases will be a thing of the past, because we want to make this a new disease category,” Radomski said. “I know I have MS, but I would gladly change that to mean ‘multiple symptoms,’ ‘multiple syndromes’ or multiple disorders. There’s no way I could take an interferon for MS and then cortisone creams for psoriasis and then get an infusion for my blood disorder; that would probably kill me.”

She said so far drug companies have been working on treating specific diseases and that those treatments can interfere with treatments for other diseases. With the support group, she hopes to help people advocate for their own health and treatments.

The group usually meets every second Thursday between March and November from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Henry Ford Medical Pavilion’s fourth floor, located at 16151 19 Mile Road. Radomski said they usually get doctors and other experts to come in and talk with anywhere from 25 to 50 visitors.

Deb Patrick, AARDA event specialist, said the group also has its 16th annual luncheon coming up at MacRay Harbor — located at 30675 N. River Road in Harrison Township — May 7. Themed around the Kentucky Derby, the event will feature a silent auction and raffle, and will honor Dr. Noel Rose, a pioneering researcher into autoimmune disease.

“Dr. Rose has been volunteering with AARDA for a long time,” Patrick said. “He’s just an all-around champion for AARDA for the past 25 years, and we decided to honor that commitment to our organization and autoimmune patients.”

The event starts at 11:30 a.m. and runs through about 2:30 p.m., she added. Violinist Rodney Lamar Page is scheduled to provide entertainment.

The organization also is planning a walk to take place on Belle Isle Oct. 8 to raise awareness and funding. Patrick said AARDA has held similar events in cities like New York; Washington, D.C.; and Los Angeles, and wanted to have something locally to help inform more people about autoimmune disease.

“We want people to know that we’re here trying to find a solution, funding research towards a cure,” Patrick said.

For more information on AARDA, its events or the support group meetings, call (586) 776-3900, email aarda@aarda.org or visit www.aarda.org.

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