Research and Clinical Experts Collaborate to Give Autoimmune Patient Her Life Back

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It started with a blister under the tongue, but Megan Ollett didn’t suspect there was any reason to be concerned. In 2012, she had just turned 30, gotten married, and moved to Salt Lake City with her husband to start a new job as an elementary school teacher. It was the beginning of a new chapter.

The first blister was uncomfortable, but not unbearable. Megan saw a dentist, who dismissed it as a cut that would heal, which it eventually did. But when other blisters began to form, spreading to her cheeks and taking on a deeper color, Megan began to be concerned.

“I like to think that I’m really in tune with my body,” said Megan, who maintains an athletic outdoor lifestyle of running, cycling, and hiking with her husband. “So the second something isn’t right, I want to know what’s going on.”

As the blistering spread, Megan was referred to Christopher Hull, MD, a dermatologist at University of Utah Health, who suspected that an autoimmune disorder was starting to form. “Our immune systems exist to protect our bodies, but on occasion, the wiring can become reversed,” Dr. Hull said. “Antibodies meant to protect us regard our own organs as foreign, and can attack. Megan seemed to exhibit symptoms of this, though we weren’t sure to what extent.”

Hull and Megan began a treatment strategy and rather quickly, her condition improved, but then things turned worse. By the spring of 2014, Megan began to experience an open rash of blisters across her skin.

“It was as though my body was an open sore, everywhere,” Megan said. “My shoulders, my stomach, my chest, my back, my arms… It felt like my whole body was on fire.” Then one day, Megan woke to an intense fever, her face swollen, and went straight to the emergency room.

At University of Utah Health’s Immunodermatology Laboratory, Hull pulled together colleagues across campus to piece together a more detailed picture of what was happening. “Megan has what we call a mixed connective tissue disease,” Hull said. “It’s a very rare mix of conditions caused by her own immune system, and together, they were progressively becoming more severe.”

Megan’s body was now in full rebellion—attacking her own skin.

Leveraging the resources of University of Utah Health, Hull and his team were able to develop new treatment protocol that quickly took effect. “Within weeks, the swelling went down and the blisters went away. I began to feel like myself again,” Megan said.

Today, four years later, Megan remains largely in remission, able to manage her condition when it resurfaces. And while she now lives Denver, she chooses to return to the U for treatment and care. “I went to see all the experts,” Megan said, “But no one else was able to pinpoint what was happening, much less devise a workable treatment. I really believe that Dr. Hull and the whole team at the University of Utah Health have really given me my life back. He has my total trust.”

Hull credits the U’s strong philosophy of collaboration for Megan’s success. “There are few places in the country where advanced research and clinical care intersect like they do at the University of Utah Health,” Hull said. “We’re able to bring incredible resources to bear, and I think that makes the difference.”

“Anyone who has experienced this kind of disorder knows it’s a nightmare—to not feel comfortable in your own skin. I know that I’m incredibly lucky, because my treatment was effective.” Megan said. “That’s why I believe supporting this work is so important. Everyone deserves to feel that they belong in their body, and that their body belongs to them.”

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