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Published on September 23, 2019

patient posing by tree

Dermatologist works tirelessly to restore New Lisbon woman's quality of life

'He saved my life'

When Samantha and Seth Espinosa promised to love each other through thick and thin in 2011, they envisioned decades passing before they'd have to face any significant health obstacles together.

Instead, in the years after their wedding, Samantha found herself in and out of dermatology offices for a worsening case of psoriasis.

"It was getting out of hand," Samantha says.

A life-changing diagnosis

Samantha was diagnosed with psoriasis at 17 years old after she developed a dime-sized rash that resisted over-the-counter treatments. The autoimmune disorder, which appears as red lesions, occurs when skin cells reproduce too quickly. For some patients, psoriasis is hereditary. Others develop the condition without warning.

Treatment varies, but doctors often prescribe topical creams to help manage the condition. There is no cure.

"The biggest misconception people have about psoriasis is that it's just a rash," Samantha says. "People think it's like a burn or eczema, but it's not just flaky, itchy skin. Imagine a deep cut that gets tender and hot and throbs. That's what psoriasis can feel like all the time, all over your body."

Other effects are invisible.

"It can make you feel like you have to hide yourself," Samantha says. "It takes away your self-esteem and confidence."

A hero in a white coat

Karl Noll, MD

Karl Noll, MD

At its worst in 2015, psoriasis covered 80 percent of Samantha's body. The disease made it impossible for Samantha to care for her family—including her two daughters, Savanna, now 10, and Sierra, now 9—or to even get out of bed. Seth became Samantha's
caretaker. He helped his wife bathe, dress, apply creams and cover her in plastic wrap every night to aid treatment.

"That period of time was one of the lowest points in my life," Samantha says. "I felt like I didn't really have a lot of people on my side."

While Samantha's support system was small, it also was mighty. One person worked relentlessly to get Samantha the treatment she needed: Gundersen Health System dermatologist Karl Noll, MD.

Samantha met Dr. Noll in 2012. "I could just feel that Dr. Noll's main interest was getting me the right care," Samantha says.

Her intuition was right. Dr. Noll suggested a treatment that cleared up Samantha's psoriasis—a biologic injection—but Samantha's joy was short lived. Her insurance refused to cover the expensive option.

Throughout the next four years, Dr. Noll would advocate for Samantha, reaching out to the insurance company with letters and photos detailing the effectiveness of the treatment.

"When you see someone like Samantha fighting so hard to get better, you want to help," Dr. Noll says. "Medications can be life altering and transformative for patients. If barriers prevent a patient from getting them, we go the extra mile. We do that for all our patients."

Samantha's insurance finally agreed to cover the treatment in 2016—thanks, in part, to the tireless work of Dr. Noll.

Since, Samantha has regained her life. She has resumed working, volunteering and enjoying time with her family. She also has shared her story with Wisconsin lawmakers, with the hope that new legislation can help ensure insurance companies cover medications that patients need.

Love + Medicine

Every day, Gundersen Health System staff deliver great medicine plus a little something extra—we call it Love + Medicine.

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