Personal Profile: U-M Hospital helps give hope, better life to people with Scleroderma

In January 2007 Sheri Hicks was diagnosed with Scleroderma. It was the first time she ever heard the word that would become a part of her vocabulary for the rest of her life.

“I didn’t know how to spell it and I didn’t even know how to pronounce it,” Hicks says. “I had no idea what it was. So I went home, looked it up online and started to freak out. Was I going to die? I have a newborn baby I need to raise. I have things I want to do.”

One of the things she did do was move from Tucson, Ariz., back home to Michigan. And then she made a trip to Ann Arbor where Hicks found hope at the University of Michigan Scleroderma Clinic under the direction of Dinesh Khanna, MD, MS.

“Dr. Khanna and the team at U-M are like my second family,” says Hicks, now 45 years old. “I can’t say enough good things about them. I knew I needed a comprehensive program to go to where everyone I need to see are at one place. I told Dr. Khanna that I moved all the way from Arizona to Michigan just to be under his care.

“And once I heard that they found a compound in the research lab that could provide new treatment and potentially turn the Scleroderma switch off, I was instantly motivated to help raise funds for a cause that not only affects me but my loved ones and friends who suffer daily.”

Scleroderma is a chronic connective tissue disease that hardens the skin. This autoimmune disease attacks not only skin but internal organs and can disfigure and incapacitate patients in the prime of their life and can even lead to death.

While there is no cure, treatments have improved over the past few years as has Hicks’ quality of life.

“If I got this diagnosis 20 years ago I might not be here today,” she says. “So, yeah, they are making great strides.”

Hicks developed a team, “Kicks for Hicks,” dedicated to furthering the research of internationally renowned U-M Scleroderma scientist Khanna. Four years ago, with the help of family and friends, Hicks raised $10,000 for the Scleroderma Cure Fund.

She hopes to double that figure at the Oct. 21 event (see details below), as Scleroderma affects 300,000 people in the United States yet has no federally-approved treatment.

It all began for Hicks with something she thought was a minor skin irritation. In 2006, Hicks was living in Tucson, Ariz., and was busy at home taking care of her newborn son when she began to notice small cracks in her hands and on her fingers.

“We were living in the desert and I was a new mom who was washing her hands all the time so I just figured the cracks were just the result of dry skin,” says Hicks.

Slowly over time the cracks turned into ulcers and were becoming very painful to the point where the simplest things – writing, putting on makeup, doing the dishes – were unbearable.

These were the first signs that Sheri Hicks had Scleroderma. She says there is nothing you can do about the pain – then and now.

“The skin is dying and it’s super painful,” she says. “I was on major narcotics and my parents had to come in from Michigan to help me with my son. I couldn’t take care of the baby myself. Things I used to take for granted I simply couldn’t do anymore because they were so painful. I still try to do as much as I can but it’s frustrating.”

After the diagnosis, Hicks was put on different medications to help keep the disease from getting worse.

“We were in Arizona for five years but it got to the point where we needed to come back home to be closer to family because I needed help,” she said. “There is a difference between a support group of friends and one of family. I can ask my mom do things like do the laundry and wash the dishes but I can’t really ask friends for that. We needed to be home.”

Hicks, who was born and raised in Dearborn and is a 1990 graduate of Dearborn High School, also taught in the Dearborn Public Schools for 10 years.

Sheri’s husband, Jamie Hicks, who is originally from Novi, was able to get a transfer for his job back to Michigan and the couple, along with their 11-year-old son RJ, now live in Farmington.

How you can help

What: Scleroderma fund-raiser featuring a spaghetti dinner and silent auction. The goal is to raise $20,000 for Scleroderma research. Silent auction items include Detroit Red Wings tickets, a golf package for four at A-Ga-Ming Golf Course in Northern Michigan, fine wines and much more. Chris Edwards, WXYZ-TV Channel 7 meteorologist, will lead the evening. Dr. Dinesh Khanna from U-M will give a presentation about the latest breakthrough in Scleroderma research.
Where: Orchard UMC in Farmington Hills
When: Saturday, Oct. 21
Tickets: Tickets for the spaghetti dinner and silent auction are $20 each. For more information or to purchase tickets or donate to the cause, visit www.stompscleroderma.com.

MAIN PHOTO: Sheri Hicks, her father Ron Harworth, who also suffers from Scleroderma, and Dr. Dinesh Khanna are hosting a fund-raiser Oct. 21 at Orchard UMC in Farmington Hills.

 

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