Defying a Lupus Death Sentence Ruben Rosales

In 1991, at 31 years old, Ruben Rosales received a life-altering lupus diagnosis. Doctors delivered a chilling prognosis: “You have 10 years to live.”

Ruben And His Wife on their 40th Anniversary

Ruben and his wife on their 40th anniversary

Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks its healthy tissues and organs, leads to inflammation and tissue damage. Unfortunately, the only treatment available at the time of Ruben’s diagnosis (corticosteroids, such as prednisone) offered little hope because continued use often led to severe complications like kidney failure, infections and heart disease.

Ruben’s loving wife and three young boys stood by his side. His oldest son, nine-year-old Carlos, remembers the uncertainty and the unspoken fear that permeated their family life. However, Ruben, ever the stoic father, always tried to assure his son. “I’m gonna be alright. It’s gonna be fine,” even as the reality of his fears began to seep through.

By 2000, Ruben’s body succumbed to debilitating effects of steroids. His kidneys began to fail and he was experiencing heart attacks. His doctors conceded that there were no other treatment options.

Carlos, now 17, watched his father prepare to say his final goodbyes. Ruben guided his son through the process of locating life insurance papers and shared fatherly advice on finding work to financially support the family.

During this dark time, Ruben was referred to Adventist Health White Memorial to consult Rainier Manzanilla, MD, a specialist in cardiology and interventional cardiology (a specialty that diagnoses and treats cardiovascular conditions using catheter-based treatments). When Ruben and his family met with Dr. Manzanilla, they felt comfort and hope in the face of tragedy. Dr. Manzanilla, speaking in Spanish and with a culturally empathetic communication style, put Ruben and his family at ease. And when Dr. Manzanilla proposed a triple bypass, it felt like a lifeline.

On the eve of his surgery, Ruben was scared. Sensing this, Dr. Manzanilla paid a tender visit, fortifying Ruben’s spirit with visions of the life awaiting him. “Tomorrow, your kids are going to come to see you. You’re going to see your son graduate high school. You’re going to see your grandchildren. You’re going to be good.”

He was right: Ruben’s surgery was resounding success. Combined with the benefits of pharmaceutical advancements in lupus treatment, Ruben was able to embrace life again. Adventist Health White Memorial became Ruben’s hospital of choice for all his health needs. He appreciated the Spanish-speaking staff and the respect they consistently showed him, lovingly calling him “Jefe.”

With his newfound health, Ruben traveled to Guatemala, Cancun and Canada and became an avid fisherman. He worked tirelessly to provide for his loved ones. But most important to Ruben, he felt he was able to be the father and husband his family deserved. He shared wisdom from his experience as an immigrant from Guatemala, and his spirit of inclusivity and empathy influenced Carlos’s advocacy work in the community.

In 2018, Ruben passed away from heart failure. Yet the Rosales family remains eternally grateful for the additional 18 years they were gifted together. Adventist Health White Memorial and Dr. Manzanilla changed their lives forever.

“It’s not an exaggeration that our lives would be much different had we not come in contact with the Adventist Health White Memorial support system,” Carlos said. “And it’s not just Dr. Manzanilla. It’s everybody down to the nurses, the teams. It is such a great place.”

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