Suwanee woman to participate in lupus walk, raise awareness

SUWANEE -- For several years after she was diagnosed, Janet Vergona said she was "mad at lupus for a long time."

Now, the Suwanee resident and Gwinnett County teacher is active in raising money and awareness for research and medicine for those suffering from the disease.

Vergona is set to participate in her fourth Walk for Lupus Now at 3 p.m. on April 28 in Piedmont Park in Atlanta.

She's looking to raise money and awareness for the Georgia Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America. Her goal is $2,000.

The sixth annual event raised $400,000 last year, and is the largest of its kind in both funding and participation, Vergona said.

Vergona will have a fundraiser at 5 p.m. Wednesday at Wild Wing Cafe in Suwanee where the restaurant will donate 5 percent of its total sales after 5 p.m. to the Georgia Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, heart, lungs, blood, kidneys and brain.

One way the funding could help is to find medicine with side effects that "aren't so terrible" to the liver and kidneys, she said. The first new drug to fight lupus in 52 years, Benlysta, came on the market last year.

Vergona was diagnosed 12 years ago when her son, Brian, was stillborn at eight months, because of lupus.

"It took a long time to come around from that," she said. "Nobody knew what had happened."

About four years ago, she got involved with the local chapter of the foundation, and joined committees, participated in walks, and attended advocacy days at the State Capitol and in Washington with lawmakers.

It's a disease that many people don't know about, or understand related symptoms, Vergona said. One of Vergona's friends has had two knees and a shoulder replaced because of steroid-related side effects. For Vergona, her lungs were the source of the symptoms. Vergona said she would walk 10 feet and gasp for air.

The disease alters everyday life, she said.

"You could be fine, and the next day you're flat on your back," Vergona said.

That's why walks like the one in Piedmont Park are important to her.

"It raises your spirits and makes you feel like you're part of this community," she said. "There are people who care, you realize you're not alone."

Money raised from the walk will go toward research, education, and support services for those affected by lupus.

For more information, visit lfaga.org or call 770-333-5930.