By Kris McFalls
Veterans’ Day is the day set aside to honor all American military veterans, both living and dead, for dedicated and loyal service to our country. It is the day that we show our deep appreciation of the sacrifices they have made in their lives to keep our country free. Many of us with immune disease and our healthcare providers often equate military operations with our health struggles, so it seems appropriate for us to also honor those who have helped us in our battles.
Immune disease specialists like to use military analogies to help explain the complexities of an individual’s immune system. It goes like this: Much like every branch of the military is trained for a specific purpose, the different components that make up our immune system - such as the lymphatic system, bone marrow and white blood cells - are the different branches of the military. The military protects our homeland the same way our immune system is designed to protect our bodies - always ready to seek and destroy invaders that threaten our safety and sense of well-being.
And, much like every member of the military survives by correctly assessing threats and working collaboratively and with precision with other members to destroy enemies that compromise our country’s safety, freedom and integrity, our individual immune cells can be considered equivalent to each member of the military - trained for a specific purpose that matches their skill level and natural abilities.
However, unlike our military, many IG patients have immune systems that do not fully support their needs. Primary immune disease patients are missing all or part of their military branches. Those with autoimmune diseases have some of their military members (their cells) who misidentify other members as enemies, and they mistakenly inflict damage upon those members (their own cells).
When the military needs help, it calls on allies united in purpose to protect and serve those with common goals and interest. Similarly, those of us affected with immune-mediated diseases rely on our allies made up of friends, family and healthcare providers to help us be all that we can be.
Fortunately, like the military, the immune disease community also has its veterans who are known as plasma donors. These veterans have a deep sense of commitment and pride in knowing that what they do helps someone else. They give time and time again without much regard for personal reward. And, like veterans of war, they continue to fight our battles with us, many times never personally knowing the countless lives they have saved.
Plasma donors’ bodies serve as a basic training facility for raising antibodies. Every time a donor faces an enemy invasion, antibodies are organized to combat the threat and restore order. With each infection fought, the donors’ antibodies grow in knowledge and strength. As a result, the next time that same infection rears its ugly head, smarter and stronger antibodies are ready to fight with vigor and tenacity. The veteran plasma donors then share their antibodies so that others in need can also be protected.
Just as veterans of war are often unknown to those they have helped, the identity of plasma donors is often a secret from those they serve. Likewise, after their services are rendered, plasma donors are expected to go about their normal lives with little or no fanfare. But much like the citizens of free countries who understand freedom is not free, patients in need of IG appreciate the sacrifice and commitment of plasma donors. We know that our freedom to explore our environments and our ability to fight illnesses and recover from debilitating symptoms rely on their service and sense of duty.
So it is with great pride and gratification that we take time to honor the allies and veterans of our own personal battles with immune disease. To those who support us and sacrifice a piece of themselves so that we can continue to fight the good fight, we say thank you.
Who are the allies and veterans that help you fight the good fight? Share your stories with us by leaving a comment.