Lauren Chapman Ruiz was 20 years old, a junior in college, living in California, when she was diagnosed in 2008.
At first, Lauren thought that a bad cold was causing her headaches and extreme tiredness, but when she noticed unexplained bruises on her hips and arms, and red dots on her stomach, she knew that something more serious was going on. A day or two later, blood tests revealed that her platelet count was down to 13,000 and her hemoglobin was also very low. Her lips were cracked, her skin had begun to acquire a yellowish tinge, and her urine was orange with blood.
For two days, the hospital conducted tests before Lauren finally received a TTP diagnosis and began receiving prednisone and plasmapheresis. Fortunately, she was a quick responder and after each treatment, her platelet count doubled. She told her friends that she was bionic and was being given superman blood!
After a week of treatment, Lauren’s numbers were normal. A new semester of college was starting and she was eager not to miss a beat; she was released from the hospital on a Friday, and was back to school on Tuesday. However, within four months the demands of school, combined with a two hour commute home every weekend for labs, took its toll and Lauren was admitted to the hospital again. This time was a little different though, her TTP relapse had been caught early so her platelets never dropped below 16,000 and she had the support of a special guy she had met in one of her college classes, who called her each night to talk for hours and tell jokes. When she returned to school, they went on their first date.
Lauren wrote: “I left the hospital determined not to take life, or my health, for granted. I graduated a semester early, moved across the US to attend graduate school, lived abroad for a summer, focused my thesis on peer mentorship in chronic illness, and took a job where my work is focused on improving the experience of healthcare.”
And she married that special guy.
It had been six years since her last TTP treatment, but when she moved to a new state she found a hematologist nearby, “just to be safe”. Her hematologist told her that after all this time she was unlikely to relapse… but two months later she did.
Lauren didn’t want to believe it, but the telltale bruising, orange urine, and red dots were all there. Unfortunately, the local hospital didn’t have an in-house pheresis team so she had to wait for treatment. Lauren’s platelet count of 10,000 fell to 7,000 and her neck catheter wouldn’t stop bleeding. All night, and into the next afternoon, she and her husband argued with staff and new shifts of doctors, about the urgency with which she needed treatment. She had started to feel chest pain and was getting scared.
Finally, the next morning, the pheresis team arrived. Lauren received two weeks of plasmapheresis treatment, followed by a month of prednisone and four targeted chemotherapy agent treatments to help prevent a relapse.
It was at this point that Lauren reached out to Answering TTP Foundation to share her story, and become an active volunteer. Besides lending her design skills to turn educational materials from drab to dynamic, Lauren has provided one on one peer support to other patients and valuable patient feedback to develop educational resources.
Lauren’s doctor had encouraged her not to be afraid of having kids in a couple of years, as he had seen other TTP patients deliver children with no problems. In 2015, Lauren gave birth to a healthy baby girl whom she and her husband named Elizabeth. Then again in 2018 Lauren was in her 37th week of pregnancy with their second child when she relaped.
On September 23rd, Lauren was admitted to hospital with a platelet count of just 6,000. The plasmapheresis exchanges that she had responded to so readily in the past, failed to work. The doctors theorized that the pregnancy was inhibiting Lauren’s ability to respond to the treatment, so they gave her platelets that allowed her to deliver her daughter Samantha. Lauren was able to hold her daughter and introduce her to her big sister Elizabeth, aged almost three. However, before she could receive any more treatments, Lauren suffered a seizure and thirty minutes later, her heart stopped.
Lauren’s passing has hit the community hard. It is a stark reminder of the fragility of all TTP patients. How quickly the tide can turn, and how desperately we need better treatments and a cure.
Lauren knew this. And yet she chose to live her life with vibrancy, kindness and generosity. At one point, she wrote: “My message to other patients is that despite TTP, life can still go on and be a joy. TTP has continued to harden my determination to work hard to hold onto health, sunshine, and a good life.”
This year Lauren was awarded the Foundation’s Volunteer of the Year award in recognition of her strength, inspiration, positivity and her dedication to making life better for all those affected by TTP. We will miss her.
In one of Lauren’s letters, she quoted Viktor Frankl, saying: “The last of one's freedoms is the ability to choose one's attitude in any given circumstance."