The race of her life

  • Pamela Brice<br>Shoreline / Lake Forest Park Enterprise editor
  • Thursday, February 28, 2008 10:55am

Vintage drag car racer Cindy Jenkins usually spends her summers racing her 1968 Barracuda ragtop at shootouts and evening drags at the Seattle International Raceway Park in Kent, or at Mopars Unlimited car club drags in Yakima or Spokane.

Jenkins, 43, knows what it’s like to appreciate life in and out of the fast lane. When she was 12 years old, doctors told her she wouldn’t live past 30.

The Lake Forest Park resident has hyperglobulinemia purpura, a rare immune disorder that causes painful hemorrhaging beneath the surface of her skin, bleeding and bruising.

For most of her life, Jenkins has lived with debilitating symptoms. Just the simple act of prolonged standing, exercise or pressure on the skin could cause severe internal bleeding. She was the first child diagnosed with the condition, which affects less than 200 people worldwide.

“All the bleeding pools down in your legs, so all of my childhood and young adult life I spent wearing really ‘fashionable’ suppression stockings, and my mom would wrap my legs in bandages and use ice packs,” Jenkins said.

Dr. Thomas Price, medical director of the Puget Sound Blood Center, said, “It’s an unusual disease where people make too much of the proteins that are normally antibodies. (Jenkins) is the only one in the last 20 years I’ve been here, that we’ve run into with this.”

The condition also leads to osteoporosis because bones don’t get what they need to become strong due to the hemorrhaging.

“As a kid I tried to play baseball, and I was good at it, but I got hit by a ball twice,” Jenkins said. “The first time it broke my wrist, and the second time it fractured my shoulder.”

The only triggers for the disease are prematurity at birth and having heavy strength antibiotics as a child. Jenkins experienced both.

“I was two pounds when I was born almost three months early,” Jenkins said. “And I had pneumonia, and massive antibiotics were given to me to keep me alive. My immune system wasn’t able to fight it because I was too tiny, but the treatment blew up my immune system.”

At 15, Jenkins was taking 1,000 milligrams of codeine a day, and made it through junior high, high school and college living on painkillers, taping her legs up and walking with a cane.

“One of my physicians told me I wouldn’t live to see 30 because of the side affects,” Jenkins said. “The constant hemorrhaging causes weakening of the heart and because you always lose blood, you are always anemic and always exhausted.

“It wasn’t the best thing to tell a teen-ager, and it spun me into depression.”

The condition is considered an “orphan disease” since it affects a small number of people. And while it’s not fatal, it’s very uncomfortable, according to Price.

When Jenkins majored in library science in college, she started doing her own research.

“I tracked down an article in a medical journal in 1986 for plasmapheresis treatment and I told my doctor about it,” Jenkins said.

The treatment involves hooking up bloodlines into each arm and to a centrifuge machine. As the blood comes out one arm, the machine spins it and separates the plasma from the red blood cells and platelets. A chemical plasma is switched out with the patient’s own plasma, and it’s all pumped back into the other arm.

The procedure takes about three hours and Puget Sound Blood Center is the only facility in the region that utilizes this cell technology.

Jenkins has received plasmapheresis treatment at the blood center for the past 15 years.

“The plasma is partially responsible for triggering her condition, so if we break those cells out and mechanically remove the abnormal proteins, it takes away all of her symptoms for an interval of time until her body builds up plasma again,” Price said.

At first, Jenkins needed the treatment twice a week. But now, she can go for seven or eight weeks between treatments.

“It’s been a drastic improvement,” Jenkins said. “I couldn’t even walk across campus when I was in college, and with this treatment I was able to take a three-week-long trip across the Southwest and hike into the Grand Canyon. We hiked a total of 20 to 30 miles in those three weeks.”

Jenkins also has the necessary energy and physical stamina to invest in her hot-rod hobby — drag car racing.

“My version of drag racing is classic cars, vintage racing,” she said. “All the cars are old from the muscle era, and on Friday nights there are manufacturer shootouts, where they line up all the Dodge cars against the Chevys.”

Jenkins races her 1968 shiny blue Barracuda convertible, powered by a 340-cubic inch V-8 and “six-pack” carburetor. She also has a ‘65 Barracuda she takes out when she’s feeling a bit reckless. Her current project is a sharp ‘59 DeSoto convertible with fins.

“Sometimes, if I’m feeling really risky I’ll race my 1965 Barracuda. They look like they should race well,” Jenkins said of the earlier model. “They are bullet-shaped, but they are 400 pounds heavier than the 1968 model, so it doesn’t steer as well.”

Several years ago Jenkins and her husband took a cross-country trip, and drove the ‘68 Barracuda 7,000 miles, racing it and showing it in car shows across the states.

“The kind of racing I do is called bracket racing,” Jenkins said. “You race the other driver but you are really racing yourself — your own times.”

She clocked a personal-best time of 14.5 seconds on the drag strip in 1997 when she took second place at an event in Columbus, Ohio.

Jenkins hasn’t raced much the past two years because she has been undergoing chemotherapy for a cancer she developed related to her disorder.

But she plans to hit the asphalt again before too long.

“Since I’m one year out of surgery and chemo, I hope to make it to the races this summer,” she said.

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