Brittany Matthews

Live, Learn, Hope

To say the nurses and doctors at UNC Hospitals have become my second family is not an understatement. For nearly 20 years, I have been coming to UNC for care and treatments. I was initially seen in 1990 and shortly after diagnosed with Evans Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder where platelets and red blood cells are destroyed by antibodies.

In 1999, I began missing school due to a mysterious stomach bug and was admitted to UNC Hospitals for more tests. Additional laboratory testing confirmed that I had Common Variable Immune Deficiency (or CVID), which means I was unable to make protective antibodies to infections. As a course of treatment, I began infusions of intravenous immune globulin (IVIG) monthly. Autoimmune diseases like Evans Syndrome can be seen in 1 out of 5 patients with CVID. As I also suffered from extremely low platelets, Vincristine, Rituxan, IVIG, and Steroids were given in attempts to get my platelets up, but ultimately, my spleen needed to be removed in July of 2007. As a result, I see Dr. Stuart Gold in Pediatric Hematology Oncology, whom I've seen since I was 13 months old, and Dr. Teresa Tarrant an Immunologist at the Thurston Arthritis Research Center.

Dr. Tarrant has been one of my strongest support systems since I started seeing her. She has not only encouraged me to take what some would call a "risk" by moving into a college dorm away from home, but helped me understand that my immune deficiency was not going anywhere, and I could either let it hold me back my entire life or figure out ways to work around or with it.

My various conditions which range from immune deficiency to cleft pallet and from auto-immune disorder to webbed fingers has not gotten me down, rather they have only strengthened my spirit. The situations I have experienced due to my conditions, along with Dr. Tarrant's encouragement to not see my illnesses as a burden but somehow make something positive of it, have made me immerse myself in volunteer work, advocacy, and awareness.

I am active in various community and national organizations such as After Gateway and the Immune Deficiency Foundation (IDF), the latter which I was asked to serve on the teen council committee. My community involvement combined with my academic achievements, leadership and overall character has allowed me to be the recipient of the 2008 Eric Marder Memorial Scholarship from the IDF, CPALS at UNC Hospitals, and the State Employees Credit Union People Helping People Scholarship for $40,000. These scholarships have been placed towards my academic career at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, where I major in communications studies with a minor in recreational therapy.

My goal is to inspire others with conditions like my own. There is a quote I saw on my way to receive IVIG treatment that has struck with me and encompasses my outlook on life, "Live for Today, Learn from Yesterday and Hope for Tomorrow."