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Local woman recognized during Alpha-1 Awareness Month

AL.com logo AL.com 11/30/2019 By Dustin Fox, The Gadsden Times, Ala.

November was recognized as Alpha-1 Awareness Month in Gadsden earlier this week as Mayor Sherman Guyton presented a proclamation to Janice Mechling, a local woman who has spent her life with the condition.

"I am the face of Alpha-1," she said as the proclamation was delivered.

Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency is a genetic condition that can result in serious lung disease in adults and/or liver diseases in people of any age.

It occurs when there is a lack of the alpha-1 antitrypsin protein in the blood. The protein is produced in the liver and serves to protect the lungs from inflammation.

Although Mechling was born with the condition, Alpha-1 was not discovered and identified until she was a year old.

Even still, she lived with the condition for 46 years before she was properly diagnosed.

She had dealt with symptoms of the condition for a number of years and received misdiagnoses for what was going on with her until she was properly diagnosed by Dr. Basem Alkurdi, a Syrian practitioner. She had been referred to him by Brenden McQuire, director of the UAB Kirklin Clinic.

Prior to that diagnosis, Mechling was certified in home health and hospice, and said that she had she not been interested in medical research. But after learning she had Alpha-1, Mechling volunteered to join a study at the University of South Carolina in Charleston. While there is no cure for the condition at present, she said researchers believe one could be found in the next 12 years.

"It's possible that in my lifetime, I will have lived through not knowing when I was born, through the discovery of a serious genetic diagnosis, through self investigating, being in research, becoming an advocate and then through a cure being found," she said.

The current advocating stage she is in is important, as many people are unaware of the condition or its requirements. Mechling added that she is able to continue her research and awareness efforts through the support of her family, three of whom also have Alpha-1.

Alpha-1 lowers the activity of the lungs and is the most common genetic factor for developing COPD. It also can cause cirrhosis of the liver.

For patients with Alpha-1, being put to sleep for a small surgery as simple as a tooth procedure can be serious. Nutritional needs should be monitored, as well as sedatives used for pain management.

Mechling said she is still working with Drs. Kaleem and Jones at Gadsden Regional Medical Center and Dr. Erwin Peyton, Jr., a local physician following her case. As she continues to advocate for the condition, she said she was encouraged to continue her research by June Nichols, a local psychologist who was familiar with her case.

Mechling plans to continue to raise awareness and seek proclamations each year. This month, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster recognized November as Alpha-1 Awareness Month in that state.

Mechling also is writing a book on the subject, which she will illustrate herself, and hopes to finish it in the next couple years.

In the meantime, she will continue advocating for screenings and for patients and doctors to work together to find solutions.

"Awareness is the key to successful answers in health care," she said. "We have to work together, both doctors and patients, and listen to one another."

Having the month recognized in Gadsden was a big day for her, she said, adding, "It helps me and my community by being aware of underlying factors that may help them find an answer."

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©2019 The Gadsden Times, Ala.

Visit The Gadsden Times, Ala. at www.gadsdentimes.com

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