Bridget Hood was living a teenage dream in the 1980s. Going to high school in Riverside, she played softball and was a cheerleader. Her family was going to Hawaii for spring break. But then, in late spring 1987, she developed symptoms that would lead to a life-changing medical diagnosis.
“I went to a tanning salon to prepare for Hawaii,” Hood said in a recent interview. “I had no idea that I was predisposed to lupus, and that sunlight exacerbates the disease.”
A butterfly rash developed on her face, then spread to her arms and chest. She had flu-like symptoms including a low-grade fever, body aches and swollen glands. She quickly was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease that affects 1.5 million Americans.
Today, Hood is in remission and living in Corona del Mar. But living with and fighting the disease for 24 years turned her into an advocate for others.
“I’m so fortunate,” she said. “I’m alive, I’ve healthy, I got through it. There’s always someone else worse off. I advocate because I know I’m alive for a reason.”
Advocacy involves educating people about the disease and symptoms as well as seeking funding for research, she said. She travels yearly to Washington, D.C. to tell people about lupus, and she’s organized an Irvine-based support group through LupusLA.org.
On Tuesday, she will participate in a forum in Los Angeles that also will feature Dr. Renee Rinaldi. The free event, sponsored by Human Genomes Sciences and GlaxoSmithKline, will begin with registration at 6 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott Los Angeles Westside at 6333 Bristol Parkway in Culver City. For more information or to register, visit the Us in Lupus website, or call (855) 874-6587.
Hood said many patients suffer for years before diagnosis.
“I hear from women who say, ‘I’m being told I’m crazy, I want attention, that maybe I need to find a hobby,’” she said. “By the time they are diagnosed, the could be in kidney failure.”
Hood was diagnosed quickly, but her disease was not controlled for many years. She graduated from high school and entered college while her symptoms were flaring. She was continually nauseous but gaining weight everywhere from fluid retention. Her kidneys were complicated, and by June 2005 she had complete kidney failure.
Her brother, Corona del Mar High School graduate Nick Hood, donated a kidney, and she had a successful transplant on Jan. 27, 2006.
“He’s my hero,” she said.
Hood works part time in the real estate business, and while she fights depression that often is associated with chronic diseases like lupus, she said her life is a miracle.
“I’ve been through so much,” she said. “I’m so lucky to be alive.”
Photos courtesy of Hood. The top photo is a recent picture of Hood. The next shows her shortly after diagnosis, and the last is an image of her in 1991, swollen from kidney issues.