February 7, 2012

World Rare Disease Day-Meet Alejandra

Patient Stories of Hope and Inspiration

'Meet Alejandra!'

My name is Alejandra Islas. I'm a kindergarten teacher, living in Mexico City, Mexico. I was diagnosed with Hypereosinophilic Syndrome (HES), in 1998, at a time when medical databases showed only six cases with symptoms similar to mine, and with a life expectancy of 6 months.

My symptoms started 13 years ago, while on vacation in Argentina. Initially I had itching on my torso, but quickly started to feel tired, breathless and have heart and lung pain. In what seemed unrelated, I started to feel utter discomfort in my feet. It was as if they were burning, got swollen and I could barely walk on my own.

An initial TAC and x-ray of my lungs showed some strange moving lesions which appeared to be related to parasites. Also my feet continued to bother me and I wasn’t feeling my legs from the knee to the bottom anymore and some skin lesions started to appear… they looked like chickenpox or scarlatina on my torso, vasculitis on the face and a trail of insect bites around my calf. I went to see a dermatologist, who was baffled by them but didn’t think they were a serious condition because the symptoms didn’t match to those of an infection, and he didn’t think the heart pain was related.

Luckily, my father and brother had worked in the pharmaceutical industry, they knew blood tests could reveal something still undetected. A blood test showed that my EOS count was 79,000 (when the upper limit was 6,000). Tests to check for lupus, vasculitis, scleroderma, parasites and more were ordered, but all showed up negative. Some tests were even sent to the US to the CDC in Atlanta, GA, however at that time no one could determine an explanation for my symptoms.

Over the next few months I was feeling worse and worse. Chest pain, tiredness, general sickness, awful pain in my abdomen, joint pain and hot bruises all over my body, and I couldn’t even walk anymore. I had lost several pounds and now I could barely eat.... my body started to reject all food.

In the hospital, doctors prescribed four steroids to at least calm down the pain and to see if that would help with the hypereosinophilia, and it did! And I was finally diagnosed with HES. I am currently treated with a low dose of inhaled beclomethasone, although recently it has become really hard to find around the world.

I have a strong faith and I am certain God performed a miracle where my physicians, all of them at Medica Sur Hospital, in Mexico City, have been His instruments. And of course, I also thank God for my family, without it wouldn't be possible for me to be here today.

Although I live in Mexico, I wear jeans and made denim ribbons to share with family, friends and all those who ask about the meaning of them. I also wear my special bracelet made for this purpose. I am glad to be able to contribute my experience and advice to support others with HES!!

Thank you and God bless you all!!

Alejandra Islas
Mexico City, DF

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