As a writer, I must confess that there are some stories that move me more than others. When Lynda Marie Skluzak asked me to author her life story, I was elated. I already knew her challenges and considered them huge, followed by success. What better time to share this story than the start of a new year!! Please enjoy this inspirational tale and feel free to leave your impressions. Happy New Year!
Some hear the term “medical miracle” and are instantly skeptical. After all, something must account for those astonishing tales that defy science and reason. Lynda Marie Skluzak is living proof that disease is not necessarily predictable. At nineteen, she received the grim diagnosis of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, an autoimmune disease destined to attack the healthy tissues in her body. In delivering the news, Lynda’s physician was seemingly heartless. She prophesied it would not be long before the young woman would require a wheelchair.
There are no explanations for the incredulous events that followed. Lynda’s initial diagnosis was in 1983. More than thirty years later, she is more than disease free. At fifty years old, Lynda is a well-respected personal trainer and a Colorado National Physique “NPC” bikini lead competitor. Lynda’s struggle from then to now was massive. It included renal failure, multiple shattered bones, and several surgeries using cadavers for replacement. Lynda’s story is one of defiance, perseverance, and faith. It is an inspirational tale of beating the odds.
“When I was nineteen, I noticed a strange rash on my face, “ shares Lynda. “It was red and formed a pattern on my cheeks and the bridge of my nose. At the time, I did not realize that the rash was shaped like a butterfly. I just wanted to get rid of the redness.”
The butterfly rash, otherwise known as a malar rash, is a characteristic mark of lupus sufferers. Lynda’s primary physician recognized the significance of the marking and acted upon it. After meeting with her regular doctor, Lynda was referred for specialist evaluation. She underwent a series of medical tests. The ultimate diagnosis came from a rheumatologist. It was clear that Lynda was suffering from Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, a sometimes fatal disease.
“I didn’t believe the doctor when he first gave me the news,” says Lynda. “This was in the days before the internet, so I didn’t have the ability to google the disease and look up information about it. After all, I only sought medical care because the rash was somewhat ugly on my face.”
At the time of her diagnosis, Lynda was living a very full life. She made a daily commute from New Jersey to perform office work for a major insurance carrier in New York City. Her business day with travel was at least ten hours. And, then there was her second job.
“I have always liked to exercise,” says Lynda. “I also enjoy helping other people, so I took on teaching aerobics. I stayed in New York and led classes at a gym at South Street Seaport. It was a fun time. The extra pay was entirely secondary.”
It was not long before Lynda felt severe pain in every joint in her body. Although she was initially resistant to taking steroids and painkillers, Lynda soon found that she could not live without them. Meanwhile, Lynda enlisted her mom’s help and began investigating all types of alternative therapies. She was determined to have some control over her own destiny. Lynda was also certain that her strong spiritual connection would play a crucial role in her recovery.
“Again, I first became sick when the internet was not available as a resource,” says Lynda. “My mother talked to someone who mentioned a woman in Arizona who offered a different type of healing class. The sessions involved swimming with dolphins and rebirthing techniques. The idea was to go back to the womb.”
“It’s amazing the things one will be willing to try when you are sick, “continues Lynda. “It is one of the reasons that I strongly believe that the journey to wellness is actually more important than actually achieving good health.” Although this experience did not take Lupus away, Lynda learned a great deal about herself and started the next chapter of life, which included a move from New Jersey to Colorado. By this time, Lynda was in her early twenties and in horrific pain. The biggest difficulty was leaving her family on the east coast.
“I come from a very Italian family”, shares Lynda. “We did everything together. Ironically, I was leaving behind the people who loved me. They were the ones who would take the extra efforts to help me feel better. I was desperate, however. I wanted this all to be over.”
It was for this reason that Lynda considered returning to New Jersey. However, she knew that humidity exacerbated her sore joints and Lynda did not know how much more pain she could endure. By this time, Lynda was so sick that she was in and out of the hospital. Many times Lynda signed herself out of the hospital. It did not seem like anything was being done to better her condition.
“I went through a lot of jobs back then, “ sighed Lynda. “Executives would easily hire me to work for them. Truthfully, I looked cute in a suit and I was personable. Of course, I lost the jobs when I continually called out sick. After I was better, I would pick myself up and look for a new position.”
Lupus was not the only thing causing Lynda’s body to deteriorate. The drugs prescribed to keep Lynda’s disease under control severely began affecting her health. Lynda was afraid to shy away from the pills. Without the medicine, Lynda was certain she could not work. At 24, Lynda was alone in Colorado and needed to take care of herself. From the time she was 24 until she was 36, Lynda never collected a day of unemployment benefits. She just changed jobs.
Lynda took an assortment of medications for her condition. When she was first diagnosed, she was put on Plaquenil, a drug used for malaria and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Her prescriptions for prednisone started small and graduated to mega doses. Additionally, Lynda went for infusion therapy treatments of Cytoxan and Rheumatrex, both chemotherapy drugs. She was also prescribed pain medication.
“I started to gain weight,” says Lynda. “I was jittery and constantly on edge. My face became round like a moon. I knew it was from the medicine, but I could not fathom a life without using it. I knew the drugs were also horrible for my bones, but really didn’t realize how bad.”
Throughout the course of her disease, Lynda continued to recognize the importance of fitness. She joined the Colorado Mountain Club and went on hiking excursions with them. It was here she met her husband, Cory. Lynda and Cory married and decided to start a family soon thereafter. Lynda’s lupus diagnosis deemed her pregnancy as high risk. The obstetrician wanted her to abort the unborn baby. Lynda vehemently refused his advice. “As scary as it was, there was no way I was going to abort the the pregnancy. I put all of my trust in God.”
Although Lynda’s joints felt better during the pregnancy, she encountered other issues. Lynda experienced severe chest pains as pericarditis and pleurisy set in. The diseases made it difficult for Lynda to breathe. By the end of her pregnancy, Lynda’s body was overtaken with lupus nephritis, a life-threatening kidney disease. Lynda’s condition went from bad to worse.
“I was very sick after I delivered my son, Christopher, “recalls Lynda. “I originally planned to go on short term disability. Instead I moved on to long-term disability benefits. Ultimately, it was so bad that I qualified for social security disability.”
In February 2002, Lynda learned just how bad the drugs were affecting her bones. She was in the shower when she noticed that her left humeral head had collapsed. X-rays revealed osteonecrosis in the shoulder. The medication had stopped blood flow to the joint. This meant that Lynda’s bones were breaking down faster than her body could produce strong new bone.
Surgical intervention became necessary. Lynda needed an operation to replace the shattered bone. “I actually had to see a bone preservation doctor,” says Lynda. “The doctor performed a procedure to insert allograft, which is dead bone harvested from a cadaver. Those were scary times.”
Lynda’s first allograft was to her left shoulder in 2002. It did not work and Lynda ultimately needed full shoulder replacement in 2008. After the first operation, Lynda’s right shoulder required the same surgery. Later, the condition travelled to Lynda’s hips and her left knee. Lynda’s own bones were literally shattering from the effects of medication.
While Lynda was experiencing problems with deteriorating bones, she became pregnant with her second child. Lynda did not let the problems with her first pregnancy dissuade her second one. In 2006, Lynda delivered her daughter, Carolyn.
The shoulder replacement may have been a defining moment for Lynda. In 2008, Lynda decided to become her own doctor. “I don’t advise this for anyone, “ cautions Lynda. “I realize this was a bold step, but I was desperate. We are taught that doctors know everything. I needed to challenge my treatment. I truthfully used trial and error and my faith that God would take me through this.”
Lynda continued to see the physician treating her for lupus. However, without his knowledge, she decided to cut some medications in half. Others, she deleted from her daily regimen. One of the hardest parts was coming off pain medication. “I was addicted because of the extent of my pain,” admits Lynda. “I went to a controversial clinic in Detroit. They literally took the drugs out of my system.”
By June of 2009, Lynda was off all medication related to lupus. “I have taken pain medicine for a toothache once,” says Lynda. “However, I have not taken it recurrently since that date.”
As soon as she was up to it, Lynda returned to a fitness routine. People began to notice Lynda’s transformation and asked her about it. Some were so impressed they asked Lynda to train them. Lynda did not have a formal personal training certificate or education at this point. However, she remembered teaching the aerobics classes before her diagnosis. Lynda recalled how much she liked helping others. She started by taking friends to the local recreation center. Soon, she was watching others change because of her hard work.
“It was an exciting time for me, “ says Lynda. “I decided to start a boot camp in my backyard. Eventually I figured it was time to take classes in fitness and nutrition. In 2010, I took the test and became certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine.”
About that same time Lynda was awarded her personal training certificate, she went to see her doctors. Her physicians were amazed that she had complete kidney function. After all, Lynda had been in Stage 4 renal failure. She was slated for a transplant list. Her lupus numbers were also good. How was this possible?
“My doctor tried to tell me that I was in remission. He credited the Plaquenil,” says Lynda. “It was then I had to admit that I had not taken any medication in four years. He just shook his head.”
It has been years since Lynda collected any type of disability. Instead, she offers personal training classes. Lynda even does virtual training by Skype, where she can listen and watch her clients intensely. Lynda works with clients on six-month programs. She helps them set up meal plans and works out with them.
As much as Lynda focuses on those she trains, she realizes that it is important that she maintain her own health. She is a model of physical fitness and watches her own diet. At fifty, Lynda conquered still another challenge.
Although she placed as a finalist in other body building contests, Lynda took home a top prize in 2014. She earned first place in the Rocky Mountain National Physique Committee’s 50 and over category. Lynda has come a long way from the young woman once destined for a wheelchair.
Lynda offers a solid piece of advice for those confronted with challenges. “Whenever you find yourself doubting how far you can go, just remember how far you have come. Remember everything you have faced, all the battles you have won, and all the fears you have overcome.” Lynda is quite excited about sharing her personal journey with those who wish to contact her directly. She can be reached via her website at www.getontracktoday.com or at Lynda@getontracktoday.com.