It has often been said, “When man makes plans, God laughs.”
Kia Paynes-Gentry knows this saying all to well. At 26 years old, Kia was living the typical lifestyle of a young woman her age.
Working full-time to get through college, Kia was excited to graduate and begin working at a local hospital. Unfortunately, in March of 2004, everything she worked so hard for came to a halt.
“At first, I noticed a rash all over my face, and I just wasn’t feeling like myself,” Kia states. “I waited to see the doctor, because I thought it would just go away. Weeks later, I knew something wasn’t right, so I scheduled an appointment.”
Upon seeing the rash, the physician told Kia he wanted to test her for systemic lupus, an autoimmune disease that can affect a patient’s heart, lungs, kidneys, brain or blood.
Because of lupus’ many symptoms, the disease is often hard to diagnose and is sometimes referred to as “the disease with 1,000 faces.”
Kia is just one of 2 million Americans currently affected by this disease. Lupus patients like Kia and the Lupus Foundation of America (LFOA) raise awareness of the disease each May during Lupus Awareness Month.
“Our goal is to reach out to as many people as possible,” says Claudia Kirk Barto, executive director of the southeast chapter of the LFOA. “ Our desire is to help patients and families from Key West to Melbourne and provide them with support, information, resources and advocacy.
“We even have some promising clinical trials currently going on here in Broward County,” she adds.
After receiving a positive diagnosis of lupus, Kia fell into a stage of worry and denial.
“I just didn’t understand why this was happening to me, and I was really scared and confused at the time,” she recalls. “At first I told myself, I could fight this, and I decided not to take the medicine I was put on, which I found out later was the worst thing I could have ever done.”
Within a few months of being diagnosed, Kia started experiencing more serious symptoms of the disease including severe joint pain, crippling fatigue, seizures, kidney failure, rashes and blood clots in her lungs.
“I truly thought I was going to die, and I didn’t know what was going to happen to my children if something did in fact happen to me,” she says.
It was at this point that her faith kicked in.
“I knew about Jesus growing up, but never had a personal relationship with Him. I remember one night, when I was so sick, I could barely talk or breathe, I just prayed and cried all night long, begging Jesus to save me, and I remember being flooded by this feeling of peace. ” she says. “[Jesus] reassured me that this disease was not going to be the end of me.”
Kia recalls waking up the next day feeling like a different person.
“Jesus saved me that night, and I make it a point now to put Him first every day of my life. Once you try to control things on your own, you realize it doesn’t work and that you can’t do anything in life without Him by your side. Even on the days when I am feeling terrible, I praise Him that I am still alive and I have the ability to feel, period.”
Although Kia’s life has not gone as she expected, she is still grateful and now controls her lupus with proper medication.
“Even though I thought my life was going in a certain direction, and I had made my own ‘plans,’ I realize now that this disease is in my life for a reason, and Jesus knows exactly what he is doing. I’m on a different road now, but if Jesus takes me home tomorrow, I have had a very fulfilling life.”