In 2007, Maria Alejandra Hernandez was living her best life in New York City, working her dream job as an actress. However, she started to feel unwell, and generally tired and run down. She had a kidney biopsy done, but it didn’t lead to any answers. She recovered from the mystery illness, and went on to live her life.
Four years later at age 21, her health problems resurged with a vengeance.
“It started with a pain in my finger, I remember,” Hernandez explains. “I thought I probably bumped it or I’m just stressed out. It’s probably going to go away.”
However, the pain didn’t go away, and in fact continued to spread to her shoulders.
“The pain was so excruciating, I couldn’t even lift my hands,” she says. She was hospitalized for a month, while doctors performed a myriad of tests in an effort to diagnose the cause of her sudden pains.
She was eventually diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus. The autoimmune disease was causing her body’s own immune system to attack her joints, resulting in the unbearable pain in her fingers and shoulders. Shortly after, she started getting rashes on her face. Butterfly rash, which is a skin rash in the shape of a butterfly that appears across the nose and cheeks of lupus patients, is a hallmark symptom of the disease.
Hernandez admits that she knew nothing about lupus prior to being diagnosed. She explains, “I thought I could tell the doctor, okay, give me the medicine so I can just get better. Well, it doesn’t work that way!”
She recounts with emotion finding out that lupus is a life-long, chronic condition: “I remember one of the doctors telling to me that there was no cure; I felt like my life ended right there.”
While 90% of lupus patients are women, the symptoms can be completely different from person to person. Hernandez says that in addition to joint pain, fatigue, and skin rashes, she also experienced weight gain, hair loss, and kidney problems. At that point, she thought that her career as an actress would have to come to an end.
Lupus put a strain not just on Hernandez’ career, but on her relationship as well. At one point, the young woman told her husband that she likely wouldn’t be able to have children, and that he should find a new relationship to fulfill his dream of having kids.
“He said, ‘No way in hell!'” Hernandez laughs. Her husband stood by her side throughout her aggressive medical treatment. She now manages her symptoms with a combination of daily prescription medications and a healthy diet. Staying positive is also an important part of maintaining her mental health.
Hernandez said that her blood tests have shown promising results that her lupus is under control. As a result, she revealed that her and her husband are looking forward to starting a family of their own.
“For Warriors like myself, [becoming a parent] might take a little longer, but I’m not losing hope,” she declared. “If I hadn’t gone what I went through, I wouldn’t be here now, raising awareness [for lupus],” she said.
“Now, lupus doesn’t control me. But I’m using it to help [others].”