Last June, Dennis Nelson started experiencing symptoms he thought were related to allergies.
The 54-year-old Roy resident went hiking and couldn't seem to get enough air. His doctor said he had some sinus issues and prescribed some medicine that seemed to take care of the problem.
"Then soon after, I started getting some migratory joint pain, but it only lasted about a week, so I didn't think much of it," Nelson said. "In October, the joint pain came back. This time, I knew something was wrong."
The pain moved to a different joint every day or two and was so painful that Nelson was unable to work more than a couple of hours a day.
He returned to his doctor, who performed blood tests and a CT scan of his lungs. On Nov. 21, 2011, Nelson received a diagnosis: Wegener's Granulomatosis, an autoimmune disease in which blood vessels become inflamed, making it hard for blood to flow throughout the body.
The disease mainly affects blood vessels in the nose, sinuses, ears, lungs and kidneys, which explains why doctors initially thought Nelson had a sinus infection and then pneumonia.
After his diagnosis, Nelson said, his health began to rapidly decline. At one point, he ended up in the emergency room with kidney failure.
The rheumatologist he was referred to, Dr. Kirstin Bacani at McKay-Dee Hospital, has been treating him with medication and kidney dialysis.
"If I don't get my kidney function back, but my Wegener's goes into remission, then we'll start the process for a kidney transplant," Nelson said.
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, approximately 50 million Americans, or one in five people, are living with one of the more than 100 autoimmune diseases.