Autoimmune Team

autoimmune team logo. swirling yellow and blue dna

We realize that there are many reasons why someone would have to stay in the hospital. Other populations we serve include young people experiencing cardiac and congenital disorders, systemic lupus, seizure disorders, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, chronic gastrointestinal issues, mixed connective tissue disorders, chronic infections, and other rare diseases that might cause psychosocial, spiritual, and physical stress. It can feel really lonely to feel like a medical rarity, so we group these diseases within our Autoimmune Team.

An autoimmune disease is any disease that happens when the body’s immune system attacks itself. Normally, the body identifies foreign cells and attacks them. For someone with an autoimmune disease, their body cannot differentiate between foreign cells and their own cells, so the immune system release autoantibodies to attack healthy cells. Stress and anxiety are triggers for autoimmune illnesses, which is also hard to control, particularly for a teenager or young adult.

Some of the common autoimmune illnesses we see in our Streetlight population:

  • Type 1 Diabetes: With Type 1 Diabetes, the immune system attacks cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.  Insulin helps regulate blood sugar levels. Although the cause is unknown, if someone has a mutation in a gene that provides instructions for making proteins playing a role in the immune system, it can lead to Type 1 diabetes.  Without insulin injections, patients can experience damage to blood vessels, eyes, nerves, and the heart. Many teenagers struggle to keep up with the “carb counting” and documentation needed to mathematically determine how much insulin to give themselves with meals. If someone does not take their insulin, they can develop diabetic ketoacidosis (acidic blood) and die.
  • Lupus: Lupus is believed to have an inherited predisposition, triggered by environmental factors. The most common form of lupus we see is the SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus) type, which attacks the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs. Many of our patients with lupus struggle to find enough energy to get through the day and experience intense fatigue.
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases: We see many patients with GI diseases that are a result of immune disorders like inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). IBD refers to diseases causing inflammation of the intestinal wall.  Different types of IBD affect different places in the intestinal wall. Crohn’s disease can inflame any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus.  Ulcerative Colitis is limited to inflammation of the large intestine (colon) or the rectum. The inflammation can often lead to malnutrition. For both of these types of IBD, people can experience “flare ups” which are painful episodes of inflammation in the intestines that can result in abdominal cramping, painful diarrhea and constipation, and bleeding. Many teens with these illnesses do not want to talk about it and feel embarrassed and isolated.

To support our friends with Autoimmune Illnesses, we spread awareness in the community. This includes being active on UF’s Campus and educating UF students on the difficult reality of living with a chronic, autoimmune illness.

We also partner with different student organizations, like UF’s chapter of American Physician Scientist Association (APSA). Streetlight and UF APSA organize a yearly fundraiser and community outreach event that raises money to support our friends living with autoimmune diseases. In years past, we have organized the UF APSA and Streetlight Autoimmune Team 5k. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we shifted to a virtual event and UF APSA hosted a virtual trivia night with proceeds benefiting the Streetlight Autoimmune Team.