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Patient of the Month: Sharon Harris Survives Lupus and Pays It Forward

Sharon Harris remembers February of 2002. She remembers where she was, what she was wearing, and what she was feeling. Most of all, she remembers the day she was diagnosed with lupus.

SharonHarris1

Sharon Harris, lupus awareness advocate and founder of Lupus Detroit

May is Lupus Awareness Month. Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when the body’s immune system is unable to distinguish between foreign illnesses and the body’s own tissue and organs. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, lungs, and other organs. Although there is no cure for lupus, there are numerous medications that can alleviate its symptoms.

Sharon had just graduated from Florida A&M University in Tallahassee when she received her diagnosis. “I was 22 at the time, fresh out of college,” Sharon said. “You’re taught while you’re growing up to learn your manners, respect your elders, and get a good education. No one tells you about an autoimmune disease that you will have for the rest of your life.”

Nor had anyone told her what having lupus would entail. “I immediately went into battle mode,” she said. “I had graduated from college. I had traveled 1200 miles from my family to make my journalism degree happen, and I was going to fight.”

“But, as soon as I got my fight on, that’s when all the pain started.”

Sharon experienced a flare-up of symptoms. It would be an understatement to say that the rest of that winter was difficult for her. Her hair began to fall out. She suffered from constant fatigue and pain. In the month of February alone, Sharon lost thirty pounds.

After beginning treatment on several different medications, Sharon started feeling better by that summer. One Wednesday during a Bible study, Sharon was asked what she would do if it were her last day on Earth.

“I said I wanted to see the world,” Sharon said. “Because if lupus was going to take me out, then it was going come and find me in Paris on the Eiffel Tower or on a beach in the Virgin Islands.”

By chance, Northwest Airlines (now Delta) had put out an ad to recruit flight attendants. It was a dream job for Sharon. The job provided her with better insurance, and on her off days she could fly to any location on Northwest’s roster. Just as she had hoped, Sharon got a chance to see the world. Amazingly, Sharon started to find that her experience with lupus was helping her have a healthier mindset. “It really made me think of life in a whole different way, and just literally live. Just really get out there and live,” she said.

Sharon eventually moved back to Tallahassee, opening an eyelash parlor and holding down an office job. At that point, she experienced another flare-up. “In October in Tallahassee it is still 100 degrees outside, and I was wearing a wool coat,” Sharon said. “I was so sick.” Sharon packed up and returned to her hometown: Detroit, MI.

Now, too sick to work and without a job, Sharon did not have health insurance. The lupus was attacking her kidneys and the medicine that she was prescribed cost upwards of $3,000 for a month’s supply. Despite pinching pennies to afford her daughter’s medication, Sharon’s mother was willing to refinance her house to save her only child’s life.

That’s when Sharon’s luck shifted. One day, she visited a local lupus organization with the intention of buying a t-shirt, and she ended up walking out with a new job. Her new public relations position did not include benefits but being employed allowed her to purchase health insurance.

Although she had insurance, her share of the payments for her four medications was unaffordable; one of the therapies alone cost more than $1,000 per month. That’s when Sharon found out about the HealthWell Foundation from a Google Alert. HealthWell is a nationwide non-profit providing financial assistance to insured patients who are still struggling to afford the medications they need (and sponsor of this blog).

“Literally, HealthWell saved my life,” Sharon said. “I didn’t have to incur any debt, my mother didn’t have to refinance her house, and HealthWell saved the day.”

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And Sharon wanted to save the day for others like her. She has become a leading activist for lupus awareness, starting her own advocacy group called Lupus Detroit, which offers lupus patients emergency grants. Sharon points out that there are two colors that are used for lupus awareness, orange and purple. She opted for orange for her organization because the color is “louder” and garners more attention. “Lupus needs all of the attention that it can get,” Sharon said.

Sharon is currently in remission and has been doing well since receiving a grant from HealthWell in 2011 that allowed her to afford her medications. “I was inspired by the work that HealthWell does to help people with their medications,” she said. “I just don’t believe that someone should have to choose between paying for their medication and feeding their children.”

And neither do we, Sharon. Keep up the excellent work.

If you are inspired to help, consider raising awareness during Lupus Awareness Month and showing your support. Here are some suggestions:

  • Make a donation to HealthWell’s SLE Fund in honor of a family member or loved one who is battling lupus.
  • Celebrate World Lupus Day on Saturday, May 10th.
  • Put on Purple on Friday, May 16th and visit The Lupus Foundation of America’s website at www.lupus.org to learn how you can show your support.
  • Find your local Lupus Foundation of America chapter to learn about activities in your area.

Has lupus touched your life? Do you have plans to show support during Lupus Awareness Month? Share your story in the comments section.

Categories: Cost-Savings

Good for Your Body and Your Budget

Does stocking your shelves with nutritious foods always mean breaking your budget at the grocery store or local market? You probably think the answer is yes, but what we found might shock you.

Paul DeMiglio

Paul DeMiglio

Dawn Undurraga, a consulting nutritionist for the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and registered dietitian, tells a different story: Purchasing healthy foods and saving money can go hand in hand.

“Maintaining a delicious diet that’s good for you and the planet doesn’t have to be expensive,” she says. “You can eat 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables for less than the cost of a bus ride, for example. But people need the tools to help make this happen.”

And that’s exactly what the EWG “Good Food on a Tight Budget” free shopping guide provides, to help people eat cheap, clean, green and healthy.

“We focused on the things that you can do and the changes you can make to save money,” Undurraga says, based on recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as well as feedback from groups that have on-the-ground expertise empowering consumers to navigate through the issues surrounding tight budgets, like Feeding America and Share Our Strength.

This guide includes lists that open the door to purchasing foods with the most nutritional value for the lowest price, including 15 practical recipes that on average cost less than $1.

Tips enable shoppers to spend their dollars smartly, specifying which items are best to purchase frozen (like corn) or fresh (like lima beans), as well as how to prepare dishes at home and how to make your foods last longer.

One key recommendation for saving money on a nutritious eating regimen is to plan meals ahead, budget your time while shopping and to know what you want at the store beforehand.

“When you do, you’ll find you waste less food. Not wasting food by having a good plan can save you money too. When you shop with a meal list and a timeline, you can get in and out of a store quickly,” without going outside your budget by getting distracted and purchasing less healthy foods you don’t want or need, Undurraga explains.

The EWG created “Good Food on a Tight Budget” based on specific measures to establish the amount of pesticides that the foods contain, also comparing and rating the foods to organize the guide on a balance of five factors.

  • Beneficial nutrients
  • Nutrients to minimize (i.e. sodium)
  • Price
  • Extent of processing
  • Harmful contaminants from environmental pollution and food packaging

The USDA also underscores that planning your meals for the week and doing an inventory of foods you already have before making a list are essential. They also encourage buying non-perishables in bulk during sales and to purchase foods in season to get the lowest prices while optimizing freshness.

Similar strategies for making healthy shopping choices on a budget can also be found herehere and here.

All the research, planning and preparation involved in being a selective shopper might seem daunting at first, but the payoff to your health and budget is worth the investment.

“There’s so many ways to put together a diet. The shoppers who often make the most of their budget are those already on a tight budget. It’s tough but possible,” when you incorporate approaches that work best for you, Undurraga says.

Have you used any of these tips when grocery shopping? Did they help make it easier to purchase healthy foods and stay within your financial means? Tell us why or why not.

Categories: Cost-Savings