Battling Lupus

Rossana Olmos is a bubbly 18-year-old freshman at the University of California at Davis. She played center field for the Modesto Christian High School softball team, as well as with a traveling team. But her biggest challenge wasn't on the ballfield or in school, it was dealing with lupus.

Lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, is a chronic disease of the immune system. Instead of serving its normal protective function, the immune system forms antibodies and cells that attack healthy tissues and organs.

Rossana was diagnosed when she was 15. The disease changed her life dramatically. She was no longer allowed exposure to the sun, and was suddenly sheltered from doing anything too tiring.

"Every month, I have to go to medical appointments, and every month I have to get my blood taken," she said. "Also, I never had to take medications every day, and now I have to do that."

Even with the restrictions that came with her diagnosis, Rossana continued playing softball during all four years of high school and stopped just recently because she was leaving for college, not because of lupus.

"Doing that kind of stuff (softball) kept my mind off of it, for the most part," she said.

Rossana is a true champion, said her longtime coach, Jeff Borges of Modesto Christian. "She is a fighter, and her true character came out (after she was diagnosed)," he said. "She didn't let lupus bother her, and she didn't use it as an excuse. We had to force her to rest at times."

Borges has known Rossana for eight years, both before and after her diagnosis.

"I learned to be more compassionate and not to take everything as a do-or-die situation because of Rossana ... ," he said. "She taught me that your health and life is more important than the athletics."

Because of her medical condition, Rossana was nominated to get a wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Through a sponsorship from the Grocery Outlet on Oakdale Road, she got a new Apple laptop computer.

"They took me, my mom and dad and my brother by limo to the store, where they surprised me," Rosanna said. "All of the Grocery Outlet employees were there, and they were all clapping. I turned red because I was so overwhelmed."

Rossana and her family were taken to lunch at Chili's with the Make-A-Wish coordinators, then treated to a shopping spree at Vintage Faire Mall.

"Though I really liked the shopping part, the best part was seeing all of the people at the Grocery Outlet, which was really nice," said Rossana. "It made me feel really good."

With lupus, Rossana has good days and bad. During the week before she was to start college, she went for a checkup and was told that her lupus was flaring up, as the condition often does if a person is tired and stressed.

This led to four days of being in and out of the hospital for treatments and monitoring. With this episode in mind, Rossana and her family were worried about the college move.

"They wanted to keep me home, and that scared me because I wanted to come (to Davis)," she said. "It just scared me because it's so unpredictable. I think it's really hard for my family, because they worry about me."

Although Rossana is constantly faced with the ups and downs of living with lupus, she maintains a positive attitude.

"Even though her energy is sapped at times, she remains happy-go-lucky," Borges said. "She was an inspiration to all of the girls on the team, and to the coaching staff."

Victoria Pardini is a sophomore at Modesto High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.