Rachael Paden did not plan to retire from teaching sixth grade at Homewood Middle School at age 56. But three years ago, suffering from auto-immune disease Sjögren’s Syndrome forced her to do so.
This month Paden is helping raise awareness about the condition at Alabama’s first ever Sjögren’s Awareness Walkabout on Saturday, September 8 at Colonial Brookwood Village.
“If I had been treated earlier, it would not be so difficult,” Paden said. “That’s why it’s so important to educate people.”
Paden said that the medical community in Birmingham has not been educated in Sjögren’s. Even her internist asks Paden to bring back information on the syndrome she gets at conferences that she attends.
With the disease, white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands, so hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth. Sjögren’s can also cause muscle and joint pain and numbness; it is often misdiagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis or Lupus.
Paden was diagnosed in 2007, but one doctor told her she had had it for a couple of decades by that point. In addition to dryness and pain, she suffers from fatigue, sensitivity to light and dental issues.
“It’s not something that you can look at a person and know,” she said.
Through the walk, Paden hopes to raise community awareness and get Birmingham on the map for future Sjögren’s events.
Sjögren’s Walkabout registration starts at 9 a.m. in the Colonial Brookwood Village food court, and the walk starts at 10 a.m.
Event attendees are encouraged to bring any auto-immune related questions to enter in the Question & Answer session with a leading area rheumatologist. Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation CEO Steven Taylor will also be in attendance to meet area members and patients.
To learn more about Sjögren’s Syndrome, visit sjogrens.org.