SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA) — If it weren’t for the wheelchair she occasionally uses, you would never know Katie Brown is living with an autoimmune disease.
“My immune system attacks the healthy tissue and organs in my body,” Katie said.
At 11-years-old she was diagnosed with lupus. Katie learned the news after she went to Arkansas Children’s in Little Rock to be checked out for joint paint and a rash on her face.
“I didn’t know what lupus was. I’d never met anyone with it, I’d never heard of it,” Katie’s mother Elizabeth said, shocked to learn what her daughter had been living with.
While Elizabeth was relieved to finally know Katie’s diagnosis, it was difficult for her to comprehend that the future she had imagined for her daughter would no longer be possible. “I think as a mom it was a lot harder for me. We had aspirations and ideas.”
At the time Katie was a competitive cheerleader. The Browns expected cheerleading would be a big part of her future.
“I was thinking ahead,” said Elizabeth. “Sounds crazy but I was thinking about all the time and money we had invested in sports. I was excited about the competitions and knew she wouldn’t get to go to.”
Cheerleading though was off the table for Katie. Her time spent at cheer practices was replaced with trips to ACH in Little Rock for care before Arkansas Children’s Northwest (ACNW) opened in Springdale in 2018.
From chemotherapy to steroid IV infusions Katie endured several different types of treatment to find what worked for her.
Even if she had the time to continue cheerleading, lupus changed her stamina and her medication had changed her body altogether. “I’ve gotten more tired lately and I’ve also gotten something called avascular necrosis in my knees.”
Throughout all the changes, Katie remained positive.
“She just took it all in stride. The change was there. She didn’t feel better at the point she was going to do whatever we said to do to feel better,” Elizabeth said.
Having lived with the disease for several years, the now 16-year-old has moved forward in a different direction.
She serves as an ambassador for ACNW, with the mission of showing others that just because you can’t see her sickness, it’s there.
“Sometimes you’ll look at some things and think they’re okay but they’re not always,” Kate said.
Elizabeth said her daughter’s willingness to share her story stems from the care she has received since her diagnosis. “We have gotten so much from Arkansas Children’s that we feel it’s the right thing to do to give back.”