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Lupus patient stays positive as she waits for new kidney

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    Janella Martin was first diagnosed with lupus at age 14.

These are difficult days for Janella Martin, but you wouldn’t know it from talking to her.

Her tone is matter-of-fact as she works her way through the Job-like roll call of ills that have befallen her since she was first diagnosed with lupus at age 14.

Occasionally, there is a self-conscious pause as she calibrates the effect of her story on her listener, then an ironic chuckle to alleviate the tension.

“It sounds so hokey,” Martin says,” but I just try to stay positive about things.”

The first signs of the debilitating autoimmune disease were subtle and Martin was too caught up in the fallout of the diagnosis, which included a raft of medications and a semester off from school, that she didn’t immediately consider the long-term implications.

It wasn’t until Martin returned to school the following year and researched the disease as part of a science project that she was made fully aware of how lupus attacks healthy muscle, how it wreaks havoc with joints, skin and internal organs.

By the time Martin graduated from Nanakuli High School, her hips were so badly damaged from steroidal medication that they required full replacement. She waited six painful years to have the surgery, then spent the next year in a brace.

By that time Martin was married to her high school sweetheart and working, first at Pacific Insurance and later at Servco. The marriage didn’t survive the hardships that her ongoing illness wrought. Neither did her early employment.

With a 4-year-old daughter, Chalyssa, to support, Martin found work selling cars, real estate, anything that brought in a healthy commission.

But life with lupus is rife with trapdoors. Stress can trigger flare-ups which require massive doses of immunosuppressants to treat, which in turn leave the body prone to illness and infection. The medications themselves can cause serious damage over time.

In recent years, Martin has endured surgery to remove a painful calcium deposit around her jaw, damage to her liver and scarring of her kidneys that now requires her to undergo dialysis three times a week.

Martin was set to receive a kidney transplant from a living donor at a San Francisco facility last year but a routine screening revealed early signs of skin cancer. The procedure was postponed and funds raised by Martin’s friends to cover the surgery and the six weeks that Martin would have had to spend in California instead have been drawn upon to pay for continued dialysis treatment and to cover the many days when Martin is unable to work.

Martin is waiting on follow-up tests later this year to see if she finally will be allowed to travel for the transplant. In the meantime, she tries as always to hold on.

“Feeling isolated is the hardest part,” Martin says. “I miss family events and friends’ parties. I just try to convince myself that this is temporary and that one day I’ll be better and I can join them.”

To view a video update and contribute to Martin’s transplant fund, visit

Reach Michael Tsai at

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