Lupus didn't kill Natalie Samaroo, but it made her so much stronger, she's now reviving a walk in Mississauga — the Walk For Lupus Ontario on Saturday — to raise funds to help find a cure.
"It's surreal; it doesn't feel like it happened anymore. I've come so far sometimes I forget that I've been through what I've been through," said the 29-year-old Mississauga woman.
Samaroo said she was first diagnosed with lupus in 2005 when she was 17. She had a number of flare-ups over the course of the next seven years, some of which forced her to be hospitalized.
Lupus is a life threatening auto-immune disease, where your immune system attacks your own tissues and organs, including your joints, kidneys, brain and lungs, according to Lupus Ontario. It has no cure, afflicts 1 in 1,000 people in Ontario and is most prevalent in the black, Asian and Hispanic communities.
'They didn't expect me to live'
On Thanksgiving weekend in 2011, Samaroo suffered the biggest scare of her life. She was having trouble breathing and once admitted to hospital, she became so sick her kidneys shut down.
"Then, I just stopped breathing. She says the last thing she remembers is hospital staff trying to put a catheter in her.
"Then, they put a mask on me and then I was out," she told CBC Toronto.
For about three weeks, she was unconscious in a coma with a tube down her throat hooked up to a life support machine that was breathing for her.
"[The doctors] had told my parents to prepare. They had said they didn't expect me to live," she said.
She defied the doctors' predictions and woke up three weeks later on Halloween with muscle loss and extensive nerve damage.
"It was very scary because I couldn't move anything. All I could do was look around," she said.
At first unable to do even the most basic tasks, after months of rehab she was able to walk and feed herself again.
This year, she was feeling well enough she went looking for a lupus charity event to get involved with in her hometown of Mississauga, only to find there wasn't one.
So, she decided to throw one herself. She's planned the Walk for Lupus Ontario followed by a barbecue at Erindale Park in Mississauga.
"I have come a long way and I'm a little proud of myself too," she said. "It makes me feel a little better because I've been having a really hard time, it's given me a little joy."
'It brings tears to my eyes'
Juanita Butler, the provincial events coordinator with Lupus Ontario, says the Mississauga Walk for Lupus operated from 2004 to 2014, but the former organizer's lupus got so bad, the event was mothballed for the past two years.
Now that Samaroo is committed to reviving the event, her dedication has Butler in awe.
"The fact that she was at death's door and having that passion and commitment, it's the kind of thing that makes me proud," Butler said of Samaroo. "That is heart wrenching. It brings tears to my eyes, she's just so amazing!"
'Go big or go home,' Samaroo has planned charity event before
It's not the first time Samaroo has flexed her philanthropic muscles. For her 24th birthday, she was in hospital because of complications from lupus, so she decided to "go big or go home" for her 25th, she said.
She sold bracelets for $20 for her birthday party and raised $2,000 for Lupus Ontario.
Since lupus is a life-long chronic disease, she still deals with it daily and sometimes she can't bake because of the stiffness in her hand.
She also operates a YouTube channel where she posts videos of her life with lupus called Living Lupie.