Lupus Stole Her Legs, Not Her Heart | NBC 7 San Diego

Lupus Stole Her Legs, Not Her Heart

Stacey Kozel is hiking the 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail despite losing the use of her legs to Lupus.

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     Stacey Kozel is hiking 2,650 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail despite Lupus stealing the use of her legs.

    (Published Friday, April 14, 2017)

    Lupus stole Stacey Kozel's use of her legs, but left her heart stronger than ever.

    "I want to keep going and living life," said the woman from Pennsylvania now walking from California to Washington.

    Kozel is hiking the roughly 2,650 mile Pacific Crest Trail.  It's a trip she says would take the average hiker five or six months.  She thinks it'll take her closer to seven.

    That's because Stacey Kozel has Systemic Lupus, an autoimmune disease that can attack the body in a lot of different ways.  In Kozel's case, it targeted her spinal cord and nervous system.  A flareup in 2014 left her unable to walk. She now spends most of her time in a wheelchair.  

    She does have braces that allow her to walk, albeit with her knees locked. It can make walking a tedious task, which makes it that much more impressive that about two years after that flareup, Kozel hiked the 2,200 mile Appalachian trail. 

    "I always say the worst day on the trail is better than the best day in the hospital," she said.

    So, now she is at it again, this time walking alone from the U.S. Mexico Border to the Canadian border trekking up to 20 miles a day.

    While she's walking alone, she is constantly meeting people on the trail, which is a big reason why she's on the journey.

    "No matter what your ability is, where you come from, how much money you have, whether you're a democrat or republican, or whatever, it doesn't matter. Out here, you're a hiker.  So, everyone is family," she said.

    Kozel hopes to finish the hike by November.

    Her doctors can't tell her if the disease may eventually take her life, she is adamant it will have no effect on how she lives.

    "I don't want to have any regrets and I want to know that I lived every day as hard as I can.  So, that's my goal.  Now, all I have to do is walk north," she laughs.

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