Woman walks again after rare skin condition left her immobile

An Ohio woman regains her ability to walk and enjoy life after being diagnosed with a rare and debilitating inflammatory skin disease.

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CLEVELAND – When Linda Dixon showed up at the doctor’s office with red splotches on her face, arms, and torso, she was diagnosed with sunburn.

However, Dixon, who resides in southwest Ohio, had not recently spent a lot of time in the sun.

She continued to search for a second opinion, meanwhile her condition worsened.

“My skin went from red to violet, and all my muscles and joints got painful,” said Dixon. ”I couldn’t get in and out of the bathtub or turn my head. It just kept spreading and no one could figure out how to treat it.”

Nearly a year later, Dixon, slumped in a wheelchair and unable to walk, was referred to Cleveland Clinic, where she met Anthony Fernandez, M.D., Ph.D., a specialist in the treatment of systemic autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

Dr. Fernandez quickly diagnosed Dixon with classic dermatomyositis, a painful inflammatory disease most commonly affecting the skin and musculoskeletal system. The condition can also impact the lungs, heart and other organs.

Dermatomyositis can be a challenge to diagnose, as it’s often mistaken for lupus, another connective tissue disease that often impacts the skin but requires different treatment.

“Her condition was severe,” said Dr. Fernandez. “When she came in, she could barely walk and was pretty much covered head to toe in a rash. She was extremely weak.”

Dixon was immediately hospitalized for five days and treated with a variety of intravenous and oral medications.

Her condition improved, however, her body was still resistant to standard therapies, including intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) – a therapy aimed at helping individuals with weakened immune systems.

Dixon was enrolled in a clinical trial, led by Dr. Fernandez, aimed at determining the effect of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) gel, in treating the disease.

Twice-weekly injections of ACTH gel, in addition to other medications, helped completely control Dixon’s skin and muscle disease.

“While the disease isn’t cured, it’s under control,” said Dr. Fernandez. “There’s no active inflammation in her skin, her muscle strength is normal and we have been able to decrease the amount of systemic medicines she receives; her quality of life has definitely improved.”

Dixon is now able to exercise by taking walks in a mall near her home, and she has returned to one of her favorite pastimes, sewing and quilting.

“I can do the things I love again,” said Dixon. “Dr. Fernandez saved my life.”

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