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Hoops is an elixer of health for Auburn's Faleagafulu
Watching Seandalynn Faleagafulu on the court, one would be hard pressed to say that she has a chronic disease.
In fact, up until just a week ago even Faleagafulu's teammates on the Auburn girls basketball team had no idea their senior point guard and on-court leader has Lupus – an auto-immune disease that compels the immune system to attack the body, causing fatigue, hair loss, skin rashes and joint pain.
"I don't think a lot of people know what she goes through on a daily basis," said Trojans coach Adam Ladage. "The girls in the program already look up to her, I think this will make them look up to her even more and respect what she does.
"She's first in the gym, last out," Ladage said. "She never dogs it; you never have to yell at her to work harder. And she has all the excuses in the world to not work hard."
Faleagafulu was 8 years old when she first realized something was wrong.
"I was balding in certain places, and where I was balding, I had scabs," she said. "It happens to some people who have this. Then I got my ears pierced, and the Lupus attacked it. You could tell where it was starting to eat away at my ear."
Faleagafulu was also suffering from constant headaches and fatigue.
At first, doctors struggled to determine the cause of her ailments.
"It was frustrating. I went to three different doctors who all said it was different things," she said.
Finally, Faleagafulu said, her grandmother, Linda Kolze, helped put it all together by taking her to a specialist who diagnosed her with cutaneous Lupus.
"It mostly attacks my skin," she said.
Doctors prescribed her three different medicines to treat her disease, instructed her to limit her exposure to sunlight and warned her that symptoms such as joint pain and fatigue would get worse over time.
"My doctor predicted that by the time I got to high school there were going to be a lot of days where I really would not be able to get out of bed because I'd be too tired and my body would be aching," she said. "But I haven't had any days like that."
Faleagafulu, who plays club basketball year round for Denn Pretz at Riverside Youth Basketball (now the Northwest All-Stars) and with the Auburn Summer League, credits staying active with basketball for staving off the worst of the symptoms.
"Playing basketball, that's what helped me out," she said. "The doctors were the ones that told me to stay active, but they also said there would be days where it would be hard to do it. But I haven't really had those, I've just been able to push through."
Staying active has worked so well for Faleagafulu that last year she was able to ditch her prescriptions.
"The doctors have said her basketball — playing with her high school and club with Denn Pretz — has really helped her, especially with being able to be off the medicine," Ladage said.
Normally, Faleagafulu is not forthcoming about her disease. In fact, Ladage said he didn't even know about it for the first two years she was in the program.
"As our relationship as player-coach has developed, she's become more and more honest with me," Ladage said. "As a freshman or sophomore, she did anything she could to hide how tired she was. But the last two years she's been a lot more open."
Now, with urging from Ladage and support from stepdad Michael Smith – an assistant coach for the Auburn girls – and her mom Shawniene Kaufman, Faleagafulu is willing to talk more about having Lupus.
"He (Ladage) talked me into it," she said. "He told me I might be able to help someone else who has it and help them push through it. Even if I just help one person, that's reason enough."
That willingness to help others comes as no surprise to Ladage, who said he sees the same thing on the court with Faleagafulu.
"She's a great teammate. First and foremost, she's a leader. She has been since her freshman year. But she does come from a pass-first mentality and not a scoring mentality," he said.
Today, with only a season left in Faleagafulu's prep career, Ladage said, he hopes to inspire her to step up on the court.
"She's a lot better player than she thinks she is," Ladage said. "I think that everyone around her has a lot more confidence in her than she has in herself. And that might hold her back sometimes. When she gets into the mindset that she needs to score and assert herself, she's one of the better players in our league."