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Exercise, diet give lupus victim her life back


The only hints that Jacqueline Pressey suffers from lupus are the elbow-length white satin gloves and broad-brimmed straw hat she wears outdoors.

If she didn't wear the protective clothing, a red bumpy rash would develop on her face and her hands would swell so severely that she could not comb her two daughters' hair.

But after two years of adhering to a strict diet that stresses vegetables, noncitrus fruits and vitamins, the 33-year-old Elkridge woman no longer relies on medication and has returned teaching aerobics -- an activity she thought she would never do again.

"It is a miracle," said Ms. Pressey, a devout Christian who peppers her speech with references to God.

In 1990, Ms. Pressey was diagnosed as having lupus -- an autoimmune disease in which white blood cells attack the body's muscular and connective tissues. Those with lupus suffer from swollen joints, arthritis, allergic reactions to sunlight and food, among other symptoms.

Although medication can cause the disease to go into remission, it may also disappear without any apparent cause.

"Lupus is a disease characterized by remissions and flare-ups," said Mary Guidara, a spokeswoman for the Lupus Foundation. "It's a disease you always have. It's unpredictable."

Ms. Pressey said she suffered from fevers and fatigue so debilitating that at times she forgot her telephone number.

"I was always tired," she said. "I was sleeping my days away and I had three children."

At the time, Ms. Pressey's husband, Victor, was in the Army, and she visited several medical specialists across the country as the family moved from base to base. But none of the doctors knew exactly what ailed her and, because she didn't stay in one place long, doctors were unable to chart her medical history.

"They gave me antibiotics and the fever would go away" temporarily, she said. But once she finished the antibiotics, the symptoms would flare again.

Four years ago, she was diagnosed with lupus at Georgetown University Medical Center. To control the painful swelling and inflammation, she began taking six types of medications two or three times a day.

"I was 28 years old and living a senior citizen's life," she said.

The medication had side effects that caused her to gain weight, made her nauseous and caused intestinal bleeding.

Depressed, Ms. Pressey thought she would never return to the active life she led as an aerobics instructor. She had opened Re-Creations Total Body Fitness Training in 1986, but was forced to quit teaching because of her illness.

Two years ago, Ms. Pressey began to put her life back together at a friend's urging. She slowly lost weight. She tries to avoid stressful situations and takes afternoon naps to prevent fatigue. She also drinks a lot of water, takes vitamin B supplements and avoids citrus fruits and foods that contain nitrates, such as processed meats.

She credits her lifestyle change with her lupus remission.

"I'm questing for the best," Ms. Pressey said. "Not for you or the world, but for me."

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