SOUTHINGTON — First-year Southington softball coach Davina Hernandez didn’t know much about lupus until she was struck by the disease in 2009.
Hernandez was a healthy, elite athlete playing Division I softball at the University of Massachusetts and also suiting up for the Puerto Rico National Team when, still only in her early 20s, she suddenly started feeling the effects of a chronic inflammatory disease that, as of yet, has no cure.
Finding that cure has become one of the rookie coach’s main goals in life, and her Blue Knights have stepped forward to help.
This afternoon, when undefeated Southington (14-0) hosts Farmington at 3:45 p.m., Hernandez’s players will put aside their traditional blue and white uniforms to wear purple shirts, headbands, bows and wristbands.
Purple: the official color for lupus awareness.
“It’s great for us to show the community that we are supporting our coach and it’s great awareness for lupus,” Southington third basemen Lauren Zazzaro said Thursday. “We are trying to get a lot of people to come and support us. We have been planning this for a while and I think she is going to love it.”
Hernandez was an assistant under John Bores in Southington’s run to last year’s Class LL state title. Her ailment was a secret to most.
Then Hernandez was selected to be in a documentary being put together by the Connecticut chapter of the Lupus Foundation of America called “40 Years, 40 Lives.” A film crew shot a day in the life of Hernandez that included a Blue Knights’ offseason workout.
That’s when the players found out what their coach was going through. Immediately, they wanted to do something to help.
“We like to prove to people that our coach is a fighter,” said second baseman Kaitlin Paterson. “She’s always held strong for us and we just want to give that right back to her.”
Hernandez was blown away by her team’s support.
“By the time of the first booster club meeting, they already had the lupus game set up and planned,” Hernandez said. “I almost started crying from them just telling me. That meant a lot to me and that says a lot about them and what kind of kids they are.”
Hernandez was first afflicted while playing for Puerto Rico in Venezuela in 2009 after getting a bacterial infection from a piece of fruit. The illness lasted for weeks, but went away. Three weeks later, she started getting painful symptoms on different parts of her body every day.
“It was one thing after another and I went back to the doctor,” Hernandez said. “They knew I had an autoimmune disease. I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis from more than one doctor. Two years later, in 2011, that whole summer, I went through chemotherapy to wipe out my entire immune system.”
Hernandez developed kidney disease that year and, finally, she was also diagnosed with lupus. She immediately had multiple surgeries, including on her kidneys.
With lupus, a patient’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. The resulting inflammation can affect many areas — joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.
“It’s pretty serious,” Hernandez said. “I have bad days here and there now. I have joint pain and fatigue. But I have started a new treatment on a trial basis last July. I sit for four hours and get an IV treatment. It’s the first medicine ever created specifically for lupus. It has helped me but I don’t know what long term affects it will have on me. There’s not a lot of research being done. That’s why I’m so involved in the lupus foundation.”
Lupus afflicts over one million people world wide and approximately 18,000 in Connecticut, including Maloney center fielder Saimara Cantres.
Hernandez takes 23 pills a day for her condition.
In addition to raising funds and awareness today, many of the Blue Knights will participate in the 2014 West Hartford Walk to End Lupus Now! on Sunday morning. They will be walking as a group called “Dream Big with Davina.”
Hernandez said they are looking for more walkers. To register, go to lupusCT.org. The documentary “40 years, 40 lives” will also be available on that web site by 10 a.m. this morning.