It’s not news you’d expect to hear on a routine visit to get new eyeglasses—especially when you’re just starting high school. So, in 2009, when doctors told Savanna Rupp, of Livonia, she was going blind and likely had just three months left to see, she was shocked. “I just thought that my vision had gotten a little bit worse,” she recalls. “At that time, we had no idea what was going on.”
Ultimately, after a series of medical appointments and tests, doctors diagnosed her with uveitis. This rare disease causes inflammation deep inside the eye. The results can be devastating. Happily, that wasn’t the case for Rupp. And thanks to the combined efforts of her medical team and the Botsford Hospital Rheumatology Clinic, much of her sight has been restored. Now, the future she once feared was slipping away is well within her grasp.
Botsford’s Rheumatology Clinic, a hidden gem among the hospital’s other well-known services, makes a difference in people’s lives every single day. According to Inocencio Cuesta, M.D., a rheumatologist who’s been with the clinic since 1995, its purpose is to use education, support, and therapy to help patients affected by rheumatic diseases. These include osteoarthritis and a host of other illnesses that target bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and, sometimes, certain organs. Some rheumatic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), scleroderma, and lupus, fall under the realm of autoimmune diseases as well. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s immune system misfires and attacks the body itself. The clinic specializes in the diagnosis and nonsurgical treatment of these painful and debilitating conditions. The disorders aren’t curable. But often there are therapies to suppress the disease process and control it.
“It’s very important to be seen early and get put on a treatment regimen so that you can lead a productive life, control your pain, and be able to do what you want to do,“ Dr. Cuesta says.
He and the clinic staff works closely with each person’s primary care physician and other health care providers to find a treatment that helps. That can take time. And it must be done carefully, because some of the medicines used are extremely potent and sometimes weaken the body’s ability to fight off other illnesses. “We watch patients closely with lab monitoring, good physical exams, and close follow-up,” Dr. Cuesta says, “We have that expertise.”
Alvin Jones, of Southfield, is another good example of how the right treatment can make a difference. Now 65, the avid exerciser was first diagnosed with RA in 2003, after experiencing weakness and tenderness in his joints. For 10 years, his condition was well-controlled with medication. But then, as sometimes happens, the medication quit working. In late 2013, the pain, especially in his knees, grew intense.
“I felt like they were just saying to me, ‘Go ahead and try and move me,’” he recalls. In fact, his knees were so affected that at times they were visibly red.
At the clinic, Dr. Cuesta found a new medication that is helping. And that means Jones is able to go to the gym and be the active person he usually is. “My life is as normal as ever when the arthritis is under control,” he says. He’s grateful for the clinic and to the friendly, compassionate people who work there for making his return to active living possible. “I told Dr. Cuesta that when you have health issues for a period of time, you see many doctors and their staffs, so you become a pretty good judge of “caring health professionals.’” He says. “He and his staff are among those I consider to be top-shelf.”
Rupp agrees with those sentiments. “They’re kind of my second family in a way.” She says of the clinic staff. “Not because I’ve had to be there so long, because of the way they treat me.” It’s been a long haul for her. There have been multiple eye surgeries and multiple medications. One of those caused life-threatening side effects. Another made her gain a significant amount of weight at one point, something that can be especially troubling for a teenage.
Today, however, vision that was 20/400 in both eyes when she was diagnosed has been improved to 20/80 in her right eye and 20/50 in her left eye. “When I first started this long and exhausting journey, I was told my life would never be the same, I would not be able to drive, get a normal job, nor go back to school," she says. Now, she’s done them all. And she has even higher hopes for her future.
That’s a message Dr. Cuesta wants others with rheumatic and autoimmune disease to hear: “There is hope.”