Finding hope: Harlingen couple promotes lupus awareness

HARLINGEN — It was a step forward.

That’s all it took for Jay Garcia to decide to retire from a top management position in a nationally renowned insurance company after 39 years and dedicate his time to being with his wife Mary, who had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of skin lupus and was starting treatment.

“That step forward that I took for myself and my wife, it brought my wife back to me,” Garcia said about the emotional decision taken 13 years ago.

Garcia, 65, credits the support of the Texas Gulf Chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America for providing him and his wife, 63, the guidance to proceed with hope when she received the devastating news at age 50.

“It was because of the group — the openness, the conversation, the other people and their situations,” Garcia said, describing the positive environment of the support group the couple started attending in 2006. “It’s a good feeling when you meet other people, and if you have one positive person leave that meeting thinking better about themselves, then I feel blessed.”

And that’s exactly what happened to Garcia and his wife.

Since attending the meetings, they have been able to look beyond the diagnosis, beyond the disease, and focus on the positive aspects of their lives, which includes their children and grandchildren.

Garcia explained he and his wife were moved by seeing young people in the support group, some as young as 11 years old.

“That really hit my wife hard because up to that point, she was in that ‘why me? why me?’ state,” he said. “But when she saw those children struck by that illness, the stories we heard, seeing other people, I remember my wife crying. It changed her attitude completely.”

It changed Garcia’s, too.

With his wife’s treatment gradually improving and under control, Garcia decided to become a volunteer with the Lupus Foundation, focusing on local fundraisers that help support the organization’s outreach efforts, public awareness of the disease and contributions to medical research.

The Fifth Annual Walk to End Lupus Now and 5K Fun Run, scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 5, from 7 to 10 a.m. at Pendleton Park, has been a successful event for the foundation, having raised more than $36,000 in the past four years.

“Please go out and support the event. Get other friends and family members to support the cause to find a cure for this ugly, ugly disease,” Garcia said. “We need to raise funds to accomplish this goal. We also help people who have medical insurance limitations and cannot afford the steroids that doctors give to offset the pain.”

As for the support group, open to anyone coping with lupus, the meetings are held every second Tuesday of the month from 7 to 8 p.m. at Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen.

“The group is about sharing stories, learning how to cope with the disease and being able to speak up freely without feeling bad about yourself,” Garcia said. “In other words, we walk out of the meetings with a lot of confidence.”

Did you know?

– Lupus is a disease that attacks the immune system, causing damage to any organ system.

– Its cause is unknown.

– 90 percent of people living with lupus are female.

– Lupus can be disabling and fatal but can also be managed through medical treatment and lifestyle changes.

– For more information, visit or call 1-800-458-7870.

If you go

WHAT: Walk to End Lupus Now and 5K Fun Run

WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 5, from 7 to 10 a.m.

WHERE: Pendleton Park, 1427 Morgan Blvd.

COST: Adults, $25. Children 3-12, $15. LuPAWS for dogs, $10