Rare cartilage disease

photo of Mary sitting with her husband and son Learning about a Rare Disease (Relapsing Polychondritis)

by Joe Rivas, Denton, TX

Mary Sparkman with husband Steve and son Steve Jr. celebrating Christmas.

Mary Sparkman at home.

As a Rehabilitation Counselor and a promoter of health care awareness, I am often very interested in learning about rare diseases that influence the lives of all populations. This past month I attended a family function that involved visiting some friends of the family. The event was very exciting to me because the social activity gave me the opportunity to reconnect with old friends.

I was especially excited to see Mary Sparkman at the party. Mary has four older brothers and four sisters (two older ones and two younger ones). Mary and her family have always been like a second family to me. Mary, Anna, and Natalie were all schoolmates of mine when we attended grade school together. Mary would sometimes help with lunch in our high school cafeteria. She always seems very happy to see me, so when I saw her at the party last month, I decided to write my next article about her. My decision to write this article was based upon my friendship with Mary, but also, my desire to raise awareness about her rare disease.

photo of Mary standing in front of a ceramic sunMary has Relapsing Polychondritis (RPC), a rare episodic and progressive multi-system inflammatory rheumatic disease involving all types of cartilage and connective tissue, which can be life-threatening, debilitating and can be difficult to diagnose. RPC affects cartilage in multiple systems, such as the ears, nose, larynx, trachea, bronchi and joints. In addition, it can affect proteoglycan rich tissues, such as the eyes, aorta, heart and skin. Central nervous system involvement has been noted in a minority of cases. Mary’s case seemed to start in her ears, to her nasal passage, and the disease attacked the cartilage in her larynx, which forced certain physicians to implant a trachea tube in her throat. Mary is able to speak clearly, but the disease has made her voice softer. Despite this debilitating disease, Mary and her husband Steve and their one son (Steve Jr.) are determined to live their lives to the fullest potential in Lancaster, Texas.

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