May 12, 2021
In celebration of International Nurses Day, the LRA brings you the inspiring story of Dr. Bridget A. Leonard, DNP, RN, MBA, HCM, CRRN, NEA-BC, a nurse who had to learn to care for herself and her daughter with lupus. International Nurses Day is celebrated May 12, the birthday of one of the most famous nurses Florence Nightingale.
For herself, Dr. Leonard was not the best nurse advocate. Although she experienced fatigue, pain, rashes for years, it took five years of visiting specialist after specialist before finally a rheumatologist put together the pieces and diagnosed her with lupus. And even after she was diagnosed, it wasn’t until she thought her daughter ChyAnn might share the same disease that she became committed to learning about Lupus. That’s when she became a nursing super-star lupus nurse advocate.
ChyAnn woke up with a swollen face and Bridget immediately consulted the pediatrician. “I thought let me just tell him that I have lupus,” she remembered. So, the doctor tested for lupus and her tests came back positive, prompting a stay in the ICU shortly after being diagnosed.
Bridget realized that she had to learn all there was to know about lupus, her daughter’s life was on the line. She read the scientific literature and rheumatology medical textbooks, talked with rheumatologists, cardiologists and dermatologists. She became passionate about educating others, speaking at conferences every chance she gets. Her happiest moment came after one meeting, an attendee’s sister thanked Bridget for saving her sister’s life; apparently no one had considered lupus until after hearing Bridget’s presentation, she forced her sister to see a rheumatologist.
Bridget is determined to enlighten people about lupus because it is a disease few understand. “Most people sympathize with those who have diseases they can see, but those with lupus “don’t look sick” so are often treated with skepticism.
“Being a person with lupus myself helps me see through the eyes of the patient. Bridget makes sure her nursing students at Wayne County Community College learn about lupus even though it’s not a focus of her course. She speaks about it often in hopes that everyone can recognize lupus symptoms in themselves or family members. “You can save a life. Lupus is not curable, but the earlier it’s diagnosed, the better it can be managed.”
And Bridget has empowered her daughter ChyAnn to speak out as well from a younger patient perspective. For instance, the pair traveled from Detroit with the Lupus Research Alliance to DC in 2019 to share their story so members of Congress could appreciate why research funding is so critical.
“I encourage ChyAnn to educate her friends, so she is treated like everyone else in the group, and not the ‘sick’ friend. I want her to know she has an important message to tell that can save lives.”