| Patient stories

Moving from a Cane to Curling for a Cure

January 02, 2024, 3:58pm EST

Moving from a Cane to Curling for a Cure

Jennifer Cramer-Miller

Regan Birr graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a mechanical engineering degree in hand. Then she secured a promising job as a patent agent and moved from Canada to Denver. Young, ambitious, and ready to take on the world.

As she launched her career, an escalating array of confusing symptoms demanded her attention. Powerful fatigue. Joint pain. Swollen ankles. Hair loss.

Eventually, a series of doctor visits led to a diagnosis, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). An incurable autoimmune disease, inflammation from SLE can damage the small blood vessels (the glomeruli) that filter wastes in your kidneys, causing lupus nephritis.

After receiving her SLE diagnosis, Regan explained, “I was in shock. I felt like a piano dropped on my head.” As her adult life had just begun, she struggled to make sense of this life-altering news.

Two and a half years of intense treatment with a powerful chemotherapy medication followed. Regan’s lab work improved, her hair loss stopped, and her lupus nephritis went into remission.

Even so, her joint pain flared, and her stamina fell. She had difficulty walking, climbing stairs, standing, and sustaining lengthy conversations. The moment she bought a cane, she turned her despair into the determination to “turn my situation into a positive one and make my life matter.”

That’s when she overhauled her diet and exercise routine. And these self-directed steps produced dramatic improvements. Her energy increased while her joint pain diminished.

Encouraged by this outcome, she set out to prioritize and safeguard her health by minimizing her occupational stress.

So she left her work as a patent agent, moved to California, and became a fitness instructor. “And that’s when I started advocating. I got my personal training and group training certifications and admitted I had lupus. I reached out to others because my hope is to make a difference.”

Healthy food, exercise, and advocacy were not the only things that added zest to Regan’s life in California. She also met an athletic man named Todd Birr, a high-profile curler. Regan took immediate notice, because being born and bred in Canada, she explained, “curling is in my blood.”

Todd’s curling passion and prowess (including his world bronze medal in the sport) impressed her and their relationship began.

Todd and Regan married and moved to Todd’s home state of Minnesota. Now, they enjoy curling mixed doubles together, have placed at Nationals, and recently ranked as ninth in the US.

Merging passions, Regan and Todd created the Lupus Spiel USA, an event to raise funds to find a cure for lupus. It has become the largest world Professional-Amateur curling competition in the world and has elevated Regan’s advocacy for lupus awareness to a whole new level.

Regan freely shares her story as a public speaker and is the founder (along with Todd) of the Lupus Research Foundation (LRF). Their nonprofit organization primarily funds research spearheaded by Dr. Timothy Niewold and his staff at the Colton Center for Autoimmunity lab, to help find a cure for lupus. Already, they have raised over $1.3 million dollars to fund innovation and develop preventive medications.

What’s more, Regan also leads an exercise program called Regan Moves to help others lead a long and healthy life. And her forthcoming book, “Beyond Limitations” will serve as a companion to inspire others to take control of their health the way Regan has hers.

Regan acknowledges that there is so much beyond the control of lupus patients. That’s why she believes it is critical to “control what we can.” This mindset moves her forward and empowers her life.

While not all days are easy, she said, “I have twenty-seven good days a month.” Which is remarkable for a woman who previously couldn’t sink into a squat or tackle a flight of stairs.

Regan’s work is impressive, and her enthusiasm is infectious. “We can find a cure for lupus,” she stressed. And I don’t doubt that with her make-it-happen passion, amazing breakthroughs will continue. For over two decades, a twofold mission has motivated her. First, cure lupus nephritis. And second, make her life matter. Her first goal is ongoing. But by all measures, we can consider the second goal a mission accomplished. 

Thank you to Aurinia for your partnership in raising awareness about Lupus Nephritis.