UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Sue Coughlin Meets Challenges, Leads Challenges

When the LUPUS Walk on the Charles kicks off on September 23, Sue Coughlin, a UMass Boston student in the College of Management, will be leading a contingent from UMB as part of the annual Lupus Walk College Challenge. Coughlin is the walk’s College Challenge coordinator. She also suffers from lupus, an auto-immune disease that affects 1.5 million Americans.

“I hope that our efforts, by doing the College Challenge, will help unite the UMB community for a great cause and promote awareness about Lupus,” explained Coughlin.

The Lupus Walk College Challenge was initiated by the UMass Boston chapter of the Golden Key National Honor Society in 1996 and, according to Coughlin, it has greatly increased awareness about the disease lupus, the Golden Key group, and UMB. Last year UMB had the largest contingent of college walkers. Other colleges who participate in the walk include: Boston University, Boston College, Tufts, Northeastern, Harvard, Suffolk, UMass Amherst, Dartmouth, and the University of Connecticut.

“I don’t want to be known as that person with lupus – that person fighting for a cause, well, that’s different,” says Coughlin. Creating public awareness about the disease has become a full-time job for the 37-year-old UMB senior, who visits local hospitals, works year round promoting events that raise awareness about lupus and raise funds for lupus research, and is involved in efforts to lobby Congress to fund more treatment for lupus.

On September 9 she met with Howie D., a member of the Back Street Boys who lost a sister to lupus,at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. The two joined a group touring a unit for young children with the disease. Coughlin has done interviews with national magazines, as well as television programs to promote lupus awareness and research. Her appearance with Howie D. was featured on all three local newscasts.

“Being out of work with my disability, it has been great to be able to do this,” stated Coughlin. “If you give in to the disease, you can die.”

A car accident on her 21st birthday altered her life. She was in and out of the hospital for years after the accident. She suffered mostly from pain, fevers and fatigue. The doctors didn’t diagnose Coughlin with lupus until 1990.

Although the cause of lupus is unknown, doctors believe extreme trauma may be one of the triggers. Chemical and emotional stress are also listed by the Lupus Foundation of America as triggers for the enigmatic disease.

“I know this will be hard to believe, but I was happy,” Coughlin said. “Finally I had a name for what was wrong with me, and now I could do something about it.”

Doing something about it has involved seven years of chemotherapy from 1993 to 2000. She takes a handful of medications daily, including prednisone to reduce swelling in her joints and immunomodulating drugs such as azathioprine to keep her active immune system in check.

She’s currently participating in clinical trials for new medications to battle lupus.

“I’m a big proponent of clinical trials. They’re crucial to finding better treatments, if not a cure,” she explained.

Right now she’s focusing on the ninth annual Lupus Walk on the Charles, which takes place on Sunday, September 23. Registration for the three-mile walk takes place at 9:00am at Richard T. Artesani (MDC) Park, on Soldiers Field Road (across from the Boston Skating Club) in Brighton. The walk starts at 10:00am and will be followed by refreshments and a raffle. The event is being sponsored by the Lupus Foundation of Massachusetts, Inc., the Elizabeth B. McGraw Foundation and the New England Baptist Bone & Joint Institute. Honorary Chairpersons are Dr. Malika Marshall, from WBZ-TV Channel 4, and Gary LaPierre, WBZ NewsRadio 1030. To contact the Lupus Foundation, call (508) 872-5200. To participate in the UMass Boston Lupus Walk College Challenge call toll-free (877) NO LUPUS, or e-mail Sue Coughlin at [email protected].