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Leon County tracks higher for people hospitalized with lupus; here are resources that can help

Posted at 7:33 AM, Oct 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-30 08:30:37-04
  • Data shows Leon County tracks higher for number of people hospitalized with lupus, than the rest of the state
  • Julio Rodriguez shares his 3-year long battle with lupus that was all triggered by his move to Tallahassee
  • Watch the video to find out what resources he relied on, and support networks that might help you and your family as well

One of my neighbors recently shared his lupus diagnosis with me.
After that news, I found Leon County tracks much higher for people hospitalized with lupus than the rest of the state.

So I'm asking the experts why that is.

I'm also talking with that neighbor about the resources that can help.

Julio Rodriguez had been living with lupus his whole life...

"But we didn't know. I didn't know I had it," said Rodriguez...

...until he moved to Tallahassee. His wife, Felicia, said his symptoms at first were very mild

"It was like allergy type symptoms, said Felicia Rodriguez." And we went to many doctors, and they said you're allergic to something but we don't know what."

This apprehension would follow them around for the next 3 years. As Julio's lupus took a turn for the worst. He went through organ failure. He said he was in so much pain.

"I couldn't move, my body was paralyzed. I remember I could just move my right hand and that's it," said Rodriguez.

Felicia said it has taken a lot to get him back to where he is today.

"I can tell you our hospitals bills are in the millions of dollars," said Felicia. "If we didn't have private health insurance when this happened, I honestly don't think he would be here."

I drive to Bond Community Health Center and ask Chief Medical Officer, Tabatha Rios, for answers on Julio's case.

"It does tend to have a more severe presentation, and men can sometimes have worse outcomes," said Rios.

She said even though there's a higher prevalence of lupus in women and minority communities.

I ask her about this data I found from the Florida Health Department. It shows Leon County tracks higher for number of hospitalizations from lupus. Tabitha traces it back to the demographic of the city, and detection rates.

"The racial make up of the city having a higher population of African American women, but then also being able to at least get tested than those in those rural areas of Florida," said Rios.

Allison Wiman at Big Bend AHEC said that detection is so important in treating an auto-immune disease.

"The length of diagnosis from symptom onset to diagnosis is 6 years. So that's 6 years that the body is essentially fighting itself," said Wiman.

Bond Community Health Center and Big Bend Area Health Education Center recommend leaning on them if you need help navigating your healthcare plan. Felicia also tells me she relied on their faith, World Lupus Federation and the Lupus Foundation of America for guidance.

Bond Community Health Center
Big Bend AHEC - Chronic Disease Self-Management Course
World Lupus Federation
Lupus Foundation of America