Georgia family battles Lupus
GREENSBORO, Ga. - Mychel Cunningham Armour spends a lot of time here in her Greensboro, Georgia bedroom, on her cellphone. But, the 16-year longs to feel the sun on her skin, to dive into a cool, blue pool.
“I can't go because of the line in my stomach,” Cunningham Armour says. “They don't want me to get in the pool because it could get infected.”
Too much sun could trigger a rash on her face.
“They call that the ‘butterfly rash,’” she says. “Because it goes, it makes the shape of a butterfly."
Diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder Lupus at 9, Mychel now juggles at least 20 pills a day. She's had low-dose chemotherapy to damp down her overactive immune system, medication for complications like heart and kidney problems, high blood pressure, and seizures.
But, her mom Jacqueline Armour says Mychel is always itching to go.
“She won't stop,” her mother says. “We're, like, ‘Lay down, you just had chemo!’ She won't stop! She wants to move, she wants to go!”
Yet, it's a lot to be 16 and sleep tethered to a machine.
“At night I have to come home and get ready to get on a dialysis machine,” Mychel says.
Every night, it takes 9 hours for the machine to filter the toxins from her blood.
“It buzzes and beeps all time,” her mom says. “It's always an error.”
This is Mychel's new normal. Really, her family's new normal because, for years, her big sister Elantra has been struggling with some of the same symptoms.
“Then in my senior year I got really sick,” says Elantra Cunningham. “And I remember it started off with a bloody nose.”
In 2014, Elantra was diagnosed with a much milder form of Lupus. Now 23, she's become Mychel's confidante and cheerleader.
“There will be many of times, and I am a teacher, so school is one of the big issues for me,” says Elantra. “And there will be times she says, ‘I have a headache. I can't go.’ I say, 'C'mon. I know it's kind of hard.”
But the sisters push on.
In April, Mychel was approved for a kidney transplant. But she has to find a donor, so they've started a Facebook support page called “Mychel Armour Needs A Kidney” to raise awareness.
And then there is the fundraising, which is a lot for this single mom of 4 and 911 dispatcher.
“I didn't realize that it costs so much money,” her mother says.
The family is working with the Children's Organ Transplant Association, or COTA, to raise money for expenses not covered by health insurance.
For Mychel, a new kidney would mean a new life. She could swim again.
“And I get to spend the night, have sleepovers with my friends,” she says. “Because I won't have be on the machine at night anymore."
But, first, Mychel has to find her hero.
So, she can get her out of her bedroom and on with her life.
“We are just kind of waiting for that call,” says her mother. “Sitting by the phone, waiting.”
Mychel Armour is a patient at the Emory Transplant Center in Atlanta. She is compatible with O-, O+, B- and B+ blood types.
If she finds a non-matching donor, Emory is part of the National Kidney Registry, a paired kidney exchange program. The process allows someone to donate a kidney to a stranger on a patient’s behalf to ensure that person receives a kidney from a stranger.