The Fiji Times » The will to live — Living with a life-threatening illness

Living with a life-threatening disease can turn your world upside down, but Niko Rabuku prefers to think positive.

Diagnosed with lupus six years ago, he hasn’t let his condition get him down, despite knowing there is no cure.

Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus or ‘SLE’) is a systemic autoimmune disease that occurs when a person’s immune system attacks their own tissues and organs.

“I’ve been living with lupus since 2016 and it’s been a journey,” the 50-year-old said at a recent lupus awareness event.

Mr Rabuku said he started showing symptoms of the disease at work.

“I started experiencing the symptoms when I was working at Nausori Airport. I was always weak and was throwing up all the food after eating, so I was only working a minimum of two days a week.

“After feeling weak for several weeks, I decided to go to the doctor and get checked out at the hospital.

“The doctor prescribed me Panadol but the pain didn’t go away. After three weeks I went back to the doctor and asked if I could have an x-ray and the doctor agreed, so I went for my checkup.

The inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems, including the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs.

Mr. Rabuku said that after the examination he learned that he had heart problems.

“After another check, I asked what was shown on the x-ray film and I’ll never forget what he told me. He said my heart was shaped like a safety boot, so I knew something was wrong with my heart. Later he was hospitalized for a month.

“The doctor told me that I had tuberculosis (TB), pneumonia and all kinds of diseases, but later when they did my blood test they found out that I had lupus and said that I had to have surgery.

“So they opened my heart and told me I had fluid inside my heart. I was admitted for another three months in the hospital.

Lupus develops in response to a combination of factors internal and external to the body, including hormones, genetics, and the environment.

There is no cure for lupus, but with lifestyle changes and taking prescribed medications daily, people with lupus can live long and productive lives and about 80-90% of people with lupus lupus live to old age. Mr Rabuku said he had to change his eating habits to live a more comfortable life.

“I had to change my diet, for example, I can’t eat a lot of red meat like before and I can only eat a little chicken at a time.”

“Just recently I had the privilege of attending World Lupus Day celebrations and speaking out about my condition and raising awareness about this condition which is not really well known to Fijians.

“I would like to share my story and maybe it will help someone who also has lupus.”

Mr Rabuku advises his fellow Fijians to get checked out if they have symptoms of lupus and to show their support for relatives and friends who suffer from it.

The most common symptoms of the disease are rashes, swollen and painful joints, skin lesions and fatigue.

“I advise anyone who feels they are not normal to get checked out. If they feel sick or suddenly weak, go see a doctor.

“If you get confirmation that you have lupus, you can always visit the Lupus Foundation or call them to find out more about the disease and also seek professional help and advice.” World Lupus Day is celebrated annually on May 10. |

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