Kelly Gorman woke up one winter morning in 2012 to excruciating pain in her knees. Thinking it was from a new hip hop dance, she dismissed the pain. A week later she was unable to walk down the stairs.
After a month of working with countless doctors and specialists, Gorman and her family were finally given a diagnosis: Autoimmune Hepatitis and Drug-Induced Lupus.
Gorman, a sophomore criminology major, is one of a small portion of people nationwide who have Autoimmune Hepatitis.
Gorman is also a member of the Forward Motion Dance Company and has been dancing since she was three years old.
Autoimmune Hepatitis is a rare, chronic disease affecting around 30,000 people nationwide in which the body’s immune system attacks the liver – keeping it from functioning properly. Drug-Induced Lupus is also an autoimmune disorder, and is caused by long-term usage of certain medications. For Gorman, the combination of the two diseases was debilitating.
The nature of an autoimmune disorder is also rare in general, with the most prevalent being Rheumatoid Arthritis, according to Dr. Amit Golding, Assistant Professor for the Department of Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
According to the Office on Women’s Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 23.5 million Americans are affected by autoimmune disorders.
Autoimmune Hepatitis has no cure, but there are treatment plans to help with the symptoms. Gorman was put on a heavy steroid for her joint pain, according to her mother, Cindy Gorman, along with other strong medications to help with the elevated level of enzymes present in her liver.
In addition, she was asked to go off of her antibiotic to slow the growth of the Drug-Induced Lupus. After around a year, Gorman was not having any symptoms tied to the Drug-Induced Lupus.
The most difficult part of the entire process according to Gorman, was not knowing what was going on with her body.
“The more doctors we saw the more we learned, but no one could give us a diagnosis,” Cindy Gorman, said. “Even more frustrating was that I could hear a sense of urgency in [the doctors’] voices and [the doctors] knew something was definitely wrong with her.”
The doctors Gorman went to also struggled for a long time thinking other diseases were causing her joint pain.
“Doctors originally thought it was Lyme Disease, but those tests kept coming back negative,” Gorman said. “My doctors told us that she had only seen [Autoimmune Hepatitis] one time before and only knew what it was because the patient was jaundice, which is also why it was hard to diagnose me, because I wasn’t jaundice at all.”
The extent of the damage to Gorman’s liver is unknown, even to her doctors. The one possible way of finding out for certain would be to have a liver biopsy, but Gorman’s parents decided it was unnecessary – so for right now, they are still in the dark.
“I am afraid that my liver may flare up again and the issue may come back,” Gorman said. I just have to keep my hopes up that my treatment worked and that researchers can keep growing their knowledge of the disease. I can only hope, but for now, I am going to keep on dancing.”