Paula Steinmetz, a healthcare educator, has led a very healthy life. In fact, a burst appendix as a child and childbirth were her only reasons for being in the hospital until last year. “I’m a busy person and I am almost never sick,” said the 63 year old. “But then, last year I got a virus that took a long time to get over. Even when I finally did, I still didn’t feel like myself,” Paula recalled.
She had some unusual post-virus issues that she and her husband, also in the healthcare field, could easily explain away. “First, I had a rash on my arm, but we blamed it on the fact that I was picking tomatoes in the garden. Soon after that, I had some bruising but we decided it was probably because I had taken my granddaughter to the park.” Paula said. “Then came the nosebleeds, which could be justified by the hot, dry weather and that the air conditioner was running all the time.” But these were all warning signs of things to come—warning signs that Paula used to lecture her students about. “My line was, ‘People get themselves in trouble because they deny what’s going on.’”
One day while doing housework, Paula suddenly found herself standing in a pool of her own blood. “It was like a Steven King horror story,” she said. Paula had had a massive GI bleed. Her blood platelets were so low, even the ER doctor was shocked. “The nurse said, ‘This is the last stage of life. Who do you want to call?’ I remember thinking, ‘You’re telling me I’m dying? This is insane!’”
Enter A True Warrior
The hospital staff was having difficulty diagnosing the problem, as all of her tests came back negative. “I didn’t have cancer. No liver or heart disease. No GI tract issues. I was healthy as a horse but bleeding to death,” Paula said.
Dr. Perez was called in to help the hospital team, and within hours, the Board-certified hematologist and oncologist had diagnosed the problem: Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), a rare autoimmune disease most likely caused by the virus she had had. “Dr. Perez was the one who understood the disease and was there to take charge of my care,” Paula said. “Things started happening right away.”
From August through November 2015, Paula was hospitalized a number of times while her healthcare team worked on stabilizing her condition. “What works for one patient with this disease doesn’t necessarily work for the next patient,” Paula said, something she learned from her support group. “Dr. Perez stuck with me through it all. He asked me, ‘What do you want?’ I told him, ‘I want my life back.’ Dr. Perez told me that my condition wasn’t going to stop, but that we can manage it.”
And manage it, they have. Since November of last year, Paula has stayed out of the hospital and has increased her time between infusions from 10 days to about 20 with the help of Sierra Nevada Cancer Center. “Dr. Perez made that happen,” Paula said. “He really is my hero.”
Paula summed up her experience with Dr. Perez. “He once said to me, ‘I’m not going anywhere. We’ll get through this together.’ That’s exactly what he’s done. He kept his promise. He saved my life.”