Life is getting better for psoriasis sufferer

Andrew Robinson
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Keeping positive attitude, 20-year-old plans to finish high school

At her Torbay home, Shawna Coffin displays some of the many medications she must take daily  to help her manage her psoriasis.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

Dealing with the skin condition known as psoriasis created numerous hardships for Shawna Coffin since she first noticed the appearance of unexpected rashes and swelling.

“I had it everywhere, from the top of my head to my feet, like everything, and then I lost all my hair,” said Coffin, seated at her kitchen table.

But now, after a year of taking a new medication to treat the incurable disease, the 20-year-old Torbay resident says she feels more optimistic about her life.

According to the Psoriasis Society of Canada, the disease causes red patches to develop on the skin. It often affects the scalp and can lead to hair loss. Oct. 29 is World Psoriasis Day. Coffin last spoke with The Telegram in 2008.

When she was 15 and living with her family in Flatrock, Coffin noticed red rings developing around her eyes. Initially, it was thought she had developed an allergy to metals, leading to some drastic measures that included removing metal from her pants and avoiding its use for meal preparation.

“It just kept getting worse and worse, and then my eyes (were swollen) shut and I couldn’t see at all, and I had excruciating pain in my legs,” she said.

It was eventually determined Coffin had psoriatic arthritis, dermatomyositis and lupus, with the latter accounting for the swelling she experienced. Dermatomyositis is known to cause weakness, severe muscle pain and skin rashes.

The ailments affected her ability to complete simple tasks like squeezing toothpaste out of a container.

In the fall of 2007, she spent more than 30 days in hospital. Treatments were eventually found, but Coffin had to visit a hospital every second day.

Did much better after beginning certain drug

“They were kind of looking for medications that could control the whole thing, so that went on forever ... I had my ups and downs.”

In one school year, Coffin was forced to miss 109 days of classes. She wore a wig at times and gained weight after taking a steroid medication. Coffin would request to sit in the back of the room so classmates would not have to look at the rashes linked to her psoriasis.

When she was first admitted to the Janeway Childrens Hospital in St. John’s, Coffin stayed in the cancer ward.

“I’d seen a lot of people that had it a lot worse than me, so I used to just go to school and tough it out.”

Back to school

A year ago, Coffin was getting fitted for a motorized wheelchair because she was having trouble with walking. Around the same time, she began taking a drug called ustekinumab (known commercially as Stelara).

“Since then, I’ve been really, really well,” said Coffin. “I’m actually able to go out and do things.”

Because of her health, Coffin didn’t complete the credits necessary to graduate from high school. If her current medication continues to work, she’s says she’s optimistic about completing the courses necessary to do so.

“I’ve gotten a lot more confidence back than I used to have. I’m not afraid to go out or anything, or people staring at me. That’s all great, but I still have my bad days. ... I kind of have to pace myself on what I do. If I go out for a full day, then I probably have to be in bed the next day. It depends on how much exercise I do.”

Coffin said her family  — parents Faron and Roseanna Coffin and brother Thomas Coffin — has been a big help throughout her ordeal. Coffin’s father catches fish for half the year on Fogo Island, her birthplace, so at times her mother Roseanna is tasked with handling most hospital visits.

“They’ve been through everything,” she said, noting her mother too dealt with health problems as a youth. “She kind of understands absolutely everything I go through, which is great.”

People coping with psoriasis should never feel alone, according to Coffin.

“I kind of felt like I was the only young person, and like everyone else didn’t understand what I was going through, but there are people out there.”

She said it’s best to avoid feeling self-conscious and to remember there are others in the world dealing with more serious conditions.

“I try my best not to complain and be positive.”

Twitter: TeleAndrew

Organizations: Psoriasis Society of Canada, The Telegram, Janeway Childrens Hospital

Geographic location: Torbay, Flatrock, Fogo Island

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Recent comments

  • Martin
    November 08, 2012 - 13:09

    So true about vitamin D. It affects our immunity in many different ways and defficiency can contribute seroius chronic diseases including psoriasis and lupus.

  • Shawna
    October 29, 2012 - 21:41

    Hi heather! I don't mean to be rude! But what's your last name?

  • Casey
    October 29, 2012 - 12:33

    Many natuoropaths are treat this disease with diet changes and natural medicine and I know it works. Most of these so called drugs are very toxic and don't work.

  • Heather
    October 29, 2012 - 12:08

    I met Shawna when I was around 14 and she was around 11. The sweetest girI ever. had no idea what she was going through, as we had lost contact. The positivity in this article is exactly what I remember of her. She is incredibly bubbly and lifts the people around her. Amazing girl, amazing strength of character. Keep your chin up, gorgeous!

  • John W
    October 29, 2012 - 11:21

    Just wondering if we have learned anything in diseases such as psoriasis, eczema and such. Well, unfortunately we just have not. What is actually happening is that the pharmaceutical companies are treating those diseases and getting fat wallets in return. Everyone knows of what I mean but we just dont harp on it. Presently what is happening is that the cause of those diseases are just being swept under the carpet, which is indeed good for the pharmaceutical companies who sell their products to treat those diseases. Nobody seems to give a hoot about the pestecides and other .....cides that are continually used to grow our food. We are poisoning ourselves which most everything we eat and the Government could give a darn. Do away with all this farming poisoning and we get rid of 99% of the skin diseases that are prevalent today. It's getting worse as time goes on since everything we eat is blocked with god knows what. You see, the solution to all this, is to treat the cause not the condition which comes up as psoriasis, eczema and such. We are what we digest (or as some say.. what we eat) and our health faulters when we eat a poisionous food. What the heck can we not expect? Nobody seems to want to address this problem for what it is, but only to shove as many drugs into our system as possible. We are not going in the correct direction of getting rid of those skin problems. And if we so keep going the way we are going, things will get worse. Someday the people whom we are supposed to trust will get it correct and eliminate all poision that we are presently putting into our bodies, so that we all can enjoy proper health that we all deserve. Please treat the cause and we eliminate the result. How much of a rocket scientist do you have to be to understand.. that if you suffer from hangovers, STOP DRINKING.

  • Mark Noel
    Mark Noel
    October 29, 2012 - 10:37

    I used to have all kinds of terrible skin conditions, until I gave up smoking... skin cleared up completely in 2-3 months! If you're already a non-smoker, I'd recommend taking it up... & then quitting!

  • S
    October 29, 2012 - 10:01

    I worked at a tanning salon for a couple of years, and 30% of our customers had some sort of skin irritant that they found improved with using the tanning bed--not to be mistaken with over doing it or wanting a “tan”! Hats off to you Shawna! You are a beautiful girl...and looking at those dreamy eyes-who would even notice anything else anyway!!!

  • Baynurse
    October 29, 2012 - 09:15

    I have family members with this disease and it is so discouraging when family doctors try to prescribe ointments which don't work. Without insurance to cover these prescriptions it gets quite frustrating and costly. There should be more research done here on this island and family doctors who will refer immediately to these specialists.

    • Marie
      October 29, 2012 - 09:43

      I also have PsA and RA and yes then medications are very expensive. I am luckly enough to have insurance. I always said that any medications given in hospital like onr of mine are should be covered under MCP or alll medication should be covered. It is all part of our so call free health care. There is a lot of research being done in Newfoundland being done by my rheumatologist. He has made great advances in this area but it takes a long time to make just the smallest steps.

  • wayne pardy
    October 29, 2012 - 07:24

    Like, Shawna, I've had psoriasis for as long as I can rember. The good news is that today there are many more options for treatment than there were 20-30 years ago. And while there is still no cure, there are a wide range of options for those who suffer daily from the disease. When the phrase the 'heartbreak of psoriasis' is used, only those who have suffered from the disease can relate to how real that cliche truly is.

  • Maggy Carter
    October 29, 2012 - 07:23

    Shawn Coffin is to be commended for her bravery and perseverance in battling what can be a very debilitating disease, especially from social perspective. Psoriasis is a curse in this province. It has taken the medical community a long time to accept that, despite the role of genetic mutations, it is a deficiency in vitamin D that triggers not only this disease but several others including MS. Sunshine, of course, is the principal source of vitamin D. Our climatic disadvantage in this province is exacerbated by a widespread phobia regarding sun exposure. Sunscreen makers have conned the medical community into scaring people away from the benefits of natural sunlight. We now have well intentioned, but hopelessly confused parents who take extreme measures to shield their infants and children from even the briefest exposure to sunlight. Doctors have begun to prescribe vitamin D drops for infants, which is helpful and which hopefully will reduce the future incidence of psoriasis, but natural light is far more effective. That doesn't mean prolonged exposure to the mid-day sun in the middle of summer, but every person should be getting at least a half-hour of sunlight every day where possible. Excessive sun exposure can cause skin cancer (particularly in the absence of a diet high in anti-oxidants). Conversely however, sunlight reduces the incidence of most other cancers and helps prevent many other chronic conditions. Sunscreens not only block this function but are increasingly implicated in the sensitization of the skin to even greater damage. To avoid excessive exposure, clothing - not sunscreens - should be used for protection.