Tia Smith, a Florida A&M University senior from Miramar, Florida, was diagnosed with systemic lupus at age 14 and has been fighting since her diagnosis. While her journey has not always shined the happiest days on her, she’s learned to keep a smile on her face.
Systemic lupus is an inflammatory disease that attacks the immune system. It is the most common form of lupus and can affect the joints, brain, heart and lungs, which causes acute pain and inflammation.
Attending FAMU was her biggest goal, but after graduating high school, Smith’s doctors recommended that she stays close to home so that they can monitor her health. It wasn’t easy, but she was determined to get her doctors to approve her wishes of furthering her education away from home.
During Smith’s freshman year, she had gotten severely sick with pneumonia for over two weeks. By doctors’ orders, she was forced to move back to Miramar. Smith was devastated that her education would be delayed.
“I didn’t want this disease to take over my life,” Smith said. “I still wanted to pursue my dreams of going to FAMU— I didn’t want this disease to define me.”
According to lupus.org, lupus is more common in African-American women than any other race. They develop the disease at a younger age, causing more life threatening complications. One in 250 African-American women will develop some form of lupus.
After taking half a year off from school, Smith’s lupus was more controllable, and she was able to convince her parents and her doctors to let her continue her education as a fellow rattler.
“I was very afraid because I wanted to make sure she was keeping up with her medications, and keeping up with her appointments.” Nastasha Smith, Tia’s mother.
Her family worried that if she was to get extremely sick again, they wouldn’t be there to help her. The city of Tallahassee has no rheumatologist, therefore if Smith needed to get to the hospital, the nearest rheumatologist is over two hours away.
Smith usually travels back to her hometown on the weekends for all of her doctor appointments, but due to the pandemic, she has been able to complete most of her appointments via Zoom.
Everyday isn’t so happy for her. Some days she’s joyful, and other days she can’t make it out of bed. But her story is her testimony, and everyday she is thankful for life itself.
“You have to be strong and know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Smith.
Her current health status is well, and she is doing great academically. Smith is resilient and dedicated to not allowing her illness defeat her. As her journey continues, she is ready to overcome any obstacles and tribulations that may come her way.
For more information about lupus or how you can help spread awareness, visit lupus.org.