November 14, 2023
Shanna Garcia’s Native American heritage as a Lipan Apache descendant dates back to the 1800’s when her family protected their tribal lands alongside the famous warrior Geronimo. Now her fight to resist the effects of lupus on herself and her people is just as fierce and passionate. In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we bring you her inspirational story.
Shanna had been sick since her infancy, but no one knew what was wrong. Shanna describes that when her siblings got a cold, she describes always ending up having the flu or pneumonia. “They would be home from school for a day or two, but I’d be out for two weeks.”
Living in a culture that discourages talking about feeling sick, no one knew what it was, and her complaints were dismissed as “all in her head.”
When she was in high school, Shanna was hospitalized with severe symptoms –losing consciousness, developing a high fever, and nearing death. She had to drop out of high school and earn her GED. “I had been a model and played varsity baseball. I went from being very popular to having no friends real quick.”
“Lupus wiped out everything in my life.” But she was determined not to be the “high school drop-out sick kid” and worked extra hard to finish high school, go to college, earn her teaching degree, and fulfill her dream of teaching. Until lupus struck her down again. Hospitalized once more, Shanna was told her body was shutting down. As a last-ditch effort to save her life, her healthcare team sent her tissue samples to the Mayo Clinic and finally, at 30 years old, she was diagnosed with lupus and got the care she needed. Unfortunately, that came with a price – she was put on permanent disability and told she could no longer work.
“That’s when I became an advocate. I learned everything I could about lupus. I went back to Arizona to help my people. I volunteer as a patient advocate because many Natives have lupus but have never heard of it, and even doctors on the reservations may not know enough about lupus.
Shanna described the health inequity among people living on the reservations compared to American citizens and the urgent need to raise awareness among healthcare professionals as well as the general public. “Healthcare on the reservations is decades behind and not up to standard,” she noted.
“Staying quiet doesn’t help anyone. We must make our voices heard.”
A mother of six, Shanna is determined to make a difference for people with lupus and future generations. She gives talks at reservations, churches and companies; answers questions on social media; and talks with people one-on-one. She describes the particular need to educate the families of people newly diagnosed with this chronic illness that no one talks about so they have the support they need.
As an advocate, she has spoken at Food and Drug Administration Advisory Boards and shares her personal lupus experience and that of her people when the LRA advocates to Congress on the Hill.
Shanna describes the LRA as a family. “Working with this organization, I went from being a very lonely person because nobody understood what lupus is to meeting many of my best friends. We all have a purpose that we didn’t have before.”