MARICOPA — Leandra Fleming thought she had a bad case of senioritis during her final year at Maricopa High School.
She was an honor roll student who played varsity sports and held a part-time job, so it seemed reasonable that she was tired a lot. When she suffered an extended fever she went to the hospital emergency room. She wanted a note from a doctor with an explanation for all her absences so that she wouldn’t lose school credit.
Getting that note turned out to be no problem because Fleming had something far more serious than senioritis. She has lupus, a serious autoimmune disease that can be deadly. The emergency room staff admitted Fleming to the hospital for kidney failure.
“It was a little scary,” Fleming said. “It disguised itself so well as so many other things, being tired, fever, flu.”
After a rough four years, Fleming, now 22, recently has decided to be more public about her disease and active about spreading awareness.
She is inviting people to join her team for the 2019 Walk to End Lupus Now, which will be held Sept. 14 at Paradise Valley Mall in Phoenix. So far Fleming has nine teammates, including her boyfriend, parents, grandmother and siblings. The 1.5-mile walk is designed to raise money for research and increase awareness, something Fleming said is needed.
“It’s pretty sad that autoimmune diseases don’t really get as much attention as they need, and people suffer in silence,” she said. “I want to make this a big event that I hopefully get to do every year. ... I want to be an advocate for people who have lupus who can’t really explain or understand what’s going on with them to let them know that their feelings are true and it’s a real serious disease.”
Fleming spent three weeks in the hospital that first time she was admitted. The school principal had to vouch for her to graduate because she missed some of her final exams.
“It was touch and go about whether she was going to graduate, so that was pretty traumatic,” said Fleming’s mother, Maureen Brick. “I had a lot of guilt because it does come from my side of the family so I know now it’s not my fault, there’s nothing I could do about it, but you still have that guilt.”
Eventually Fleming started feeling better after her stay in the hospital. She moved into an apartment and stopped taking her medications. She had problems with medical insurance. She has insurance through the state’s Medicaid program, but she went through periods in which she no had insurance because when she held jobs she was earning too much money to qualify. At one time she was taking 16 or 17 pills.
When she landed back in the hospital last fall doctors told her she had kidney failure again, but this time it was more serious, and if she didn’t take better care of herself she would have to go on permanent dialysis. Doctors also told her she might need IV Cytoxan, a form of chemotherapy that would have caused her hair to fall out and robbed her of the ability to have children.
“As a teenager I really didn’t want to accept the fact that I was diagnosed with this disease that was supposed to make life so much harder for me,” she said. “I kind of ignored it and just tried to be a normal person.”
When she returned home from the hospital last fall she posted her story on Facebook. Other people have shared with her their autoimmune disease experiences after they saw her post. She discovered that people she had known for years suffered from other autoimmune diseases.
Lupus patients have an overactive immune system that attacks healthy systems within the body. It has no known causes or cure. Symptoms are unpredictable and can damage any organ or tissue, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.
Kidney failure has been Fleming’s biggest problem, and the water retention from it has caused her weight to fluctuate. She gained 50 pounds in a week and half, and another time she lost 65 pounds during a two- or three-week hospital stay. Surgeries, including to remove her gall bladder, have added scars to the stretch marks. Brick calls them “symbols of strength.” Fleming is not ashamed of them. She wears shorts and crop tops when it’s warm outside.
“I know that there are a lot of girls and women out there that struggle with body image issues and everything, so I want to be an advocate for that as well, too,” she said.
To participate in the walk, visit Fleming’s team page at https://support.lupus.org/site/TR/WTELN/General?team_id=9072&pg=team&fr_id=1420 or her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/donate/427946961104613/.
MARICOPA — “We’re pulling people out of the river at the end,” said Christopher Thomas, Sonoran Prevention Works Overdose Prevention Coordinator. Thomas recently spent two evenings in April training Maricopa residents and first responders how to administer a very safe and very effective drug to quickly reverse the physiological effects of drugs and save lives.
“Every day, four Arizonans die of an overdose,” Thomas said. With nearly 1,000 opioid deaths per year in Arizona and 51,000 opioid related encounters, the financial cost to residents of the state is $431 million per year.
Thomas shares what he says is the typical story of a prescription drug overdose death, beginning with a grandma who is making dinner for her family and who has a glass or two of wine one evening while cooking. Grandma was recently injured in an auto accident and she experiences hip pain while making dinner, so she takes a pill of her doctor-prescribed pain-reducing medication.
The family shares a nice dinner and later, while cleaning up, she’s still in pain. Pain medications cause short-term memory loss and grandma does not remember she already took one pain pill, so she takes another one. Then, an hour or so before bed, she has another glass of wine, as she winds down for the evening. Grandma goes to bed and does not wake up.
“Between 19 and 20 million people in the United States qualify for substance abuse disorder or are engaged in use causing problems in their lives,” Thomas said. “Only 4.6 percent of these, or roughly 900,000, even think they need treatment.”
Substance abuse disorders include the use of alcohol, opioids, non-opioids and any level or combination of mixing these drugs, which is known as polysubstance abuse disorder. Opioids are a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others.
Sonoran Prevention Works is “on a mission to end health care disparities,” said Thomas.
Health care disparity includes a lack of quick access to hospital emergency room care, as well as the tendency to not be open about needing or seeking help in rural areas, due to the increased stigma of substance abuse. “It’s everything from less access to medical care to fewer resources for help in general,” said Thomas.
This can include insufficient numbers of licensed psychological counselors (not just for addiction but also for other serious issues and for general care), a lack of faith-based intervention and inclusion, a lack of provider quality and accountability and a bedroom community attitude that when the garage door rolls down at night, nothing outside of the abode matters.
“Overall, Arizona is behind other states when it comes to updating our legal responses to a polysubstance use disorder,” Thomas said. “The silver lining for us being late on the curve is that other states have gone before us and it gives us access to a lot of data from them.”
Progress has recently been made in Arizona and Thomas seems hopeful. Wearing a black T-shirt with an outline of the state of Arizona on the front that says, “Any Positive Change 2019,” Thomas said, in 2015, Arizona passed a law allowing the use of a very safe, very effective drug called “Naloxone” to reverse a possible overdose. Updates to that law followed in 2016 and 2017. In 2018, Arizona passed the “911 Good Samaritan” law, which exempts anyone calling for help or anyone administering Naloxone from prosecution as a result of the overdose situation.
Naloxone prevent the flooding of the brain with dopamine. This gives more time for 911 to arrive and provide medical assistance. Naloxone is more effective the earlier it’s administered. It can be difficult to be sure when it’s an opioid overdose but err on the side of caution and administer Naloxone as a preventative measure.
The drug is very safe and not harmful to other medical conditions, medications or alcohol the person may have taken.
The Governor’s Office began this effort in Maricopa County in 2016 to address a large number of people in Arizona with substance abuse disorders--including alcohol, opioid, and non-opioid prescription (and street) drugs. In February 2019, Arizona Angel Initiative expanded to Pinal County. It is based in San Tan Valley and serves the city of Maricopa, as well as other areas.
Ali Channa currently heads the Pinal County Angel Initiative. Channa attended the first responder training recently provided by Sonoran Prevention Works in Maricopa. Channa is currently serving as an AmeriCorp VISTA Member in his program development role with Pinal County Angel Initiative.
“The Pinal County Sherrif’s Office, in partnership with Angel Initiative and the Governors Office of Faith, Youth and Family have launched an effort to identify the people living with various types and levels of substance abuse disorders and to connect with them in an effort to help create change, not to criminally charge and prosecute them,” said Channa.
City of Maricopa and Pinal County faith-based institutions and local nonprofits are invited to partner with Angel Initiative. Rick Westby, who is a Licensed Independent Substance Abuse Counselor (LISAC) with a Master’s degree in addiction counseling, is one of the founding owners of Maricopa Behavioral Services, LLC in Maricopa. Along with the hard work and support of his wife, Julie Westby, a licensed Behavioral Tech Therapist, the two started providing mental health support in the City of Maricopa in 2013, growing their practice with the addition of a larger, more centrally located space at John Wayne Parkway and Smith Enke Road, adding several licensed therapists.
Maricopa Behavioral Health recently sponsored a Sonoran Prevention Works First Responder Naloxone training at their offices in Maricopa. Maricopa Behavioral Health can be reached at 480-524-2699. Angel Initiative, serving City of Maricopa and all of Pinal County through its San Tan Valley-based office, can be reached at 612-361-2486.
Sonoran Prevention Works travels throughout Arizona making people more aware of the epidemic of polysubstance disorder in the state. SPW will travel back to the City of Maricopa in November. Everyone is invited to that training to learn more about polysubstance abuse disorder, prescription drug overdose and how to administer the life saving, very safe antidote medication, Naloxone. Kits will be offered at the end of the presentation and training.
MARICOPA — Kody Wayne wanted to represent Maricopa right, and he did so with a big victory at RUF MMA 32 at Copper Sky Amphitheater on Saturday.
Wayne, a Maricopa resident until a week ago when he moved to Casa Grande, scored some redemption Saturday by dismantling Robert “Wise Eagle” Edmiston in the first round in a heavyweight fight.
The last time RUF MMA came to Maricopa in January, Wayne suffered a second-round TKO loss. On Saturday, he was ready to write a new chapter.
Wayne was victorious by first round TKO with a ground-and-pound attack, raining blows down on Wise Eagle.
“I just felt spectacular … this is the calmest I’ve ever been leading up to a fight,” he said. “I was supposed to fight [Edmiston] back in October for a Muay Thai fight, his specialty … he decided to come into my [specialty], so I had to show him how it’s done. He’s a hell of a man, and I respect the hell out of him, but this is my sport.”
Wayne, whose nickname is “The Prophecy,” is most at home when standing and striking. However, when Edmiston tried to take the fight to the ground, that’s when Wayne capitalized.
Wayne immediately seized position and mounted Edmiston. He began to land some big punches, including some double hammer fists, which he credited to Joseph Rivas, who also trains at Cobra Fight Club gym in Casa Grande.
“I knew he was coming for the takedown, so the first thing was I wanted to [get] him to his back and just pound, pound, pound," Wayne said.
Former Maricopa High School football star Kentrell Coleman had his MMA debut, and while he looked plenty comfortable in the cage, he was caught with a triangle choke by Princeton Jackson at 2:16 into the first round. Coleman tapped out, giving Jackson a submission win.
Coleman was disappointed with the loss but also excited to start his MMA career.
“I felt really, really confident going in. I still feel good now,” he said after the fight. “It happens. You get caught in things. He was a hell of an opponent … we expected everything, he just executed his game plan better, that’s all.”
Coleman was not discouraged after the loss and said he’s looking forward to fighting in several disciplines in the future.
“We’re just going to keep pushing,” he said. “I know I’ve got the skills to beat a lot of guys in the state and in the nation … I want to compete in boxing, MMA and kickboxing. Next, we’re probably gonna be looking at doing something (in) kickboxing.”
In a battle for the RUF MMA heavyweight title, Dale Sopi of Maricopa took on champion Tony “Kryptonite” Lopez. The fight went the distance — five rounds — but Sopi was defeated by unanimous decision. Lopez won by scores of 48-44, 49-45 and 48-47 on the judges’ cards.
CASA GRANDE — Kind. Beautiful. Friendly.
These were words used to describe Quirina “Nina” Martinez, one of two teenagers killed on May 10 in a car accident near Maricopa.
The 15-year-old was close to wrapping up her school year at Vista Grande High School when a car she was traveling in crashed near White and Parker Road.
Jenna Lattea, a 16-year-old student, also was killed in the rollover crash.
Vista Grande opened up its auditorium on Saturday to Nina’s friends and family for a memorial service where mourners had a chance to share memories of the teenager.
“She had such a big heart,” said Flor Rodriguez of Victory Outreach Church in Casa Grande.
She recalled meeting Nina at church and was struck by her maturity and generosity.
“She spoke with so much confidence for a young girl,” Rodriguez added.
The youngest of five children, she was described by older siblings as an artist, a jokester, a confidant — the connective tissue that united the family.
“She’s my everything,” said Augreo Martinez, her brother, who was affectionately called “Nay Nay” by his little sister. Nina has been sending them little signs this past week, her brother said, to let them know she’s all right.
There were stories of her spending her allowance on her friends, putting laxatives in her sister’s drink and eating lots of hot Cheetos.
Despite the fact it was a day of sadness, Nina’s siblings encouraged mourners to keep smiling and advised the student’s classmates not to forget her as they continue through high school.