Selena Gomez’s kidney transplant is a wake-up call


Mental illness cannot be immediate reasoning when tragedy strikes

By Brooke Pawling Stennett

Selena Gomez’s kidney transplant shocked the world—but not in the way it should have. The 25-year-old singer wrote to her 126 million Instagram followers Sept. 14 that she laid low this summer because she needed a kidney transplant due to lupus—an autoimmune disorder that negatively affects the part of the body that fights off viruses and bacteria and subsequently causes autoantibodies to attack and destroy healthy tissue. This causes chronic pain, inflammation and damage in various body parts, including organs, skin and joints.

Gomez’s “big reveal” shouldn’t be shocking to the world. It’s actually common for those who have lupus to need such drastic surgery, considering kidneys are usually the first of many organs attacked by lupus. While this is a great step in terms of representation in the media, it shouldn’t have taken her post to incite dialogue about the disease. Such a large percentage of society is still mostly uneducated about the illness. 

According to a May 9, 2016, survey conducted by the World Lupus Foundation, out of the 16,911 adults from 16 nations surveyed, 36 percent did not know lupus is a disease. Meanwhile, 51 percent could not identify or did not know that lupus can cause serious health complications, such as kidney failure, anemia or heart attacks. So why does a celebrity posting a picture of herself in a hospital bed was needed to show many of her fans that this illness can be dire?

Despite affecting 1.5 million people—a staggering 90 percent of that number being women—the disease itself does not get the kind of attention and education that it deserves. According to a May 9 press release, a Twitter poll conducted by WL F found that out of 2,048 people from nine different countries who had lupus, 30 percent felt the emotional impact that comes with having lupus was underappreciated, and 47 percent said most of their doctors had little to no idea how living with the serious illness impacted their daily lives.

All of these numbers point to a desperate need for proper education to teach people—especially women—about lupus and how to get tested. It’s harrowing to think that many women are affected, yet a majority are seemingly unaware they are especially vulnerable to something that could kill them if not treated. More education in health classes and representation in media is needed so we can reach every corner of the world. Women need to know what this disease is and how it is treated. 

Most importantly, women of color need to be at the forefront of the educational movement. In a Sept. 11 study led by investigators at the New York University School of Medicine, women of color, especially Hispanic and Asian women, were found to be more likely to have lupus far more than their white counterparts. Additionally, women of color are more likely to suffer from kidney disease or kidney failure because of lupus, according to a Sept. 14 Chicago Tribune article.

Fortunately, Gomez was able to successfully get treatment and a transplant. According to the same Chicago Tribune article, the number of people having successful treatment with transplants has increased. However, there is still a huge gap in health care for women of color, according to a March 8 article from The Hill. The most vulnerable people will continue to bear this burden of a disorder with the added health care inaccessibility in secret if we do not speak out. Gomez’s viral Instagram post is a wake-up call for us, and it is about time society finally listens.