Battling Lupus: Ball State student shares his battle with an autoimmune disease

<p>Senior Ball State student Zach Greer on March 26, 2024 in the Art and Journalism Building in Muncie, Ind. Andrew Berger, Ball Bearings</p>

Senior Ball State student Zach Greer on March 26, 2024 in the Art and Journalism Building in Muncie, Ind. Andrew Berger, Ball Bearings

By: Zach Greer

Content Warning: This story contains mentions of suicide. 

Throughout my life, I would’ve never assumed that something “bad” would happen to me. Growing up generally healthy, the thought of being ill would’ve never crossed my radar, but sometimes life takes you in an unexpected direction. 

The fall of 2022 was the healthiest I’d ever been. From having a healthy body weight to working out, I felt amazing, like there was nothing wrong with me, or so I thought. 

In November, I started noticing my face swelling up in the mornings underneath my eyes. At first, I didn’t think anything of it. I was a college student in my junior year, so a lack of sleep was something I was accustomed to.

However, as days continued to go on, I started becoming more and more inflamed and tired around my body. My arms and legs also swelled, and it was hard to get out of bed in the morning. This is when my parents had enough and decided to take me to Lutheran Hospital Fort Wayne. 

The doctors realized my kidneys were slowly starting to deteriorate, and I needed to get a kidney biopsy. This is a procedure where they remove a small sample of a person’s kidney with a needle to determine the diagnosis. 

The doctors diagnosed me with lupus, an autoimmune disease where your body attacks its tissues and organs. 

What? An autoimmune disease? From being in the best shape of my life to having my life altered in the span of three weeks, the diagnosis shook me to my core.  

My entire lifestyle had to change. I was forced to go to bed early every night to make sure I was getting at least 10 hours of sleep. I was forced to switch my diet to only eating all-natural foods deemed nutritionally beneficial. I was forced to take three different medications to make sure my body would not naturally shut down again. One of these medications was called Prednisone, a type of steroid that is taken to reduce inflammation and swelling in the body. 

In the three-week period after getting released from the hospital in November 2022, I was taking about 30 milligrams of Prednisone in the form of a 10-milligram pill three times a day with each meal. However, the problem with this medication is it is too powerful for the human body in high doses. Once finals week rolled around, I wasn’t well enough to stay at school and decided to go home early to take care of my body. 

I never would’ve predicted what was going to happen in the days ahead. 

After four days of taking Prednisone, I felt physically uneasy in my stomach. It was a sort of “sinking” feeling, like my body knew something was wrong. This information was something I brought up to my parents, but we assumed it was something expected from the pill. I had never been sick like this before. How was I supposed to know what was right and wrong? 

Fast forward to the morning of Dec. 14, 2022. I woke up around 5 a.m. with a terrible pain in my stomach, unlike anything I had ever felt. My parents overheard the screams coming from my bedroom, which gradually increased in volume as I walked downstairs. I dropped down into my parents’ recliner in a full sweat with uncontrollable breathing. It felt as though someone was repeatedly stabbing me in my abdomen. Being a former athlete, I understood what pain felt like, but this sensation was unlike anything I had ever experienced. 

I was having a stomach ulcer. 

Once my parents realized this was something out of their control, they knew they had to call an ambulance and get me to the hospital. The stabbing pain from the ulcer lasted for seven hours until I was able to have emergency surgery that day.

The results from the surgery left a giant scar down the center of my stomach. Once it was over, it was revealed that the cause of the ulcer was due to the excessive amount of Prednisone that I was taking. 

To put it simply, my initial doctor had prescribed me too much of a medication that caused my body to attack itself from the inside.

Each of these hospital visits left me physically and mentally shocked to the point where I didn’t even know who I was anymore. Two traumatic experiences back-to-back in your life can make it hard to adjust back to “normal.” The added number of stressors college brought was something I needed to think about.

The next semester in 2023 was spent recovering from these experiences. It was sad to isolate myself away from friends to better my health. 

I started to question myself as a human and wondered if I mattered in the first place. Throughout the spring semester, I went to IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital to do blood work. After that semester ended, I started to notice something wasn’t right about my appearance. I became inflamed again, and my lupus started to flare back up. 

Due to these recent flare-ups, I had to go back to the hospital. One of the symptoms of lupus is that your body does not produce enough blood flow, causing your bones to become severely weaker. This ended up being another week in the hospital with constant needles and IVs forced into my body, so doctors could monitor my vitals. 

Three different hospital visits. Three different weeks. All in the span of six months. 

I knew the hospital visits made me sad, but they also made me question my existence as a whole. 

Throughout this six-month process, I had numerous suicidal thoughts run through my mind. I figured it would be an easy escape from the harsh realities of life. So, the bigger question is why didn’t I end up going through with it and taking an “easy way out”? To answer that question, I don’t know to this day, but thank goodness I didn’t.

 As shocking as this whole experience was for me, I think there was a time where I took advantage of being alive and the beauty of waking up in the morning every day. As much as I was traumatized from the whole experience, to know there are people who would trade lives with me in a heartbeat is something I try not to take for granted. 

Senior Ball State student Zach Greer shows the scars on his arm for a photo March 26, 2024 in the Art and Journalism Building in Muncie, Ind. Andrew Berger, Ball Bearings

Sure, I still take pills every single day to make sure flare-ups don’t happen again. Sure, I still do check-ups with my doctor to make sure nothing in my vitals is anything suspicious. Sure, I am still not allowed to eat specific foods to avoid another week sleeping in a hospital bed. All these things to a 21-year-old college student would be annoying, but it’s something I’ve had to adapt to. 

To anyone who might be struggling with the way they physically look or finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning, all I will say is this: keep going. Just being alive is already a blessing. Was this experience shocking? Absolutely. But I hope that sharing this story about myself will allow whoever is reading this to push through whatever you might be experiencing. 

You are already making so many people proud by simply existing.


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