People think sick people should look sick, but that’s just not the way I roll, that’s just not the way I walk out the door. I make sure that I walk out looking a whole lot better than I really do feel.
— Lovette Russell
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By Patricia McMorrow, CaringBridge staff writer

Dressing to the nines, with embellished bags for her portable oxygen tank, and gorgeous gloves to protect fingers damaged by disease, has helped heal Lovette Russell of Atlanta, GA, as she lives with two incurable illnesses.

Diagnosed a decade ago with scleroderma and polymyositis, both unpredictable autoimmune conditions, and pulmonary fibrosis, the wife, mom of two grown boys, philanthropist, nonprofit advisor and former triathlete believes that when you look good, you feel good.

She does. And she doesn’t.

Muscle weakness from the polymyositis makes it hard for Lovette to even sit in a chair and hold her head up. And the scleroderma has triggered a life-threatening buildup of scar tissue in her lungs.

That’s why Lovette’s can’t-live-without fashion accessory is an oxygen cannula.

“People think sick people should look sick, but that’s just not the way I roll,” Lovette said. “That’s not the way I walk out the door. I make sure that I walk out looking a whole lot better than I really do feel.”

Some mornings, it takes enormous effort for Lovette to get out of bed, brush her teeth, and put on her clothes. But you’d never know it from looking at her.

Maybe it’s the gloves, that protect Lovette’s hands from the effects of Raynaud’s disease, secondary to scleroderma.

Raynaud’s reduces circulation, to the point that Lovette has lost the tip of her right forefinger.

“When you wear gloves, you end up looking a little bit dressier,” Lovette said. “So I had to take my dresses to another level. And my shoes, too.”

Lovette’s heels are magnificent. “I don’t have any shame in my game that I wear three or four-inch heels, with my cannula in to breathe,” she said.

But there are limits. “I never wear shoes that hurt my feet,” Lovette said. “I have enough discomfort in my life already. I don’t need for my feet to be hurting, too.”

Lovette said her sons, Michael and Benji, tease her that she is wearing their inheritance. But they also push their mom to keep going and keep moving.

And she has. Lovette’s work includes serving on the Board of Trustees at Spelman College, her alma mater, and leading a campaign to expand Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding.

In 2016, the facility where she was born was named the Lovette Twyman Russell Emergency Center, in her honor.

“I am always looking at what I have in my life that is a blessing,” Lovette said. “If I have to leave this planet tomorrow, I can tell you I feel so good about where I am.”

Not that she is planning to go anywhere: “This doesn’t mean I want to die tomorrow,” she said. “I want another 50 years. But I’m at this perfect point in my life.”

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