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The Immune System: Your Hidden Warriors Against Disease

Soldiers attacking cellsYou probably hear it every day: “Join us in the fight against cancer!” “Join us in the fight against heart disease!” And, of course, “Join us in the fight against COVID!” There are battles going on both inside and outside of us. As we age, our concerns turn more inward toward our health issues. We have an advanced, dedicated, health care system, but there is something going on inside of us to keep us healthy — something that has been going on since man was created, and that costs us nothing. The faithful warriors of our immune system stand ever ready to prevent or limit infection and battle nasty bacteria and viruses that try to bring us down. We will have a roll call of the natural defenders.

 

The immune system can distinguish between normal, healthy cells and unhealthy cells by recognizing certain cues and springing into action. These immune cells are “born” in the bone marrow and develop differently in different parts of the body. The skin is the first defense, having its own immune cells. If the skin is breached, there are other immune cells being transported by the bloodstream, patrolling for trouble. This is why blood tests are used to determine the state of the immune system. Here are the heroes of the immune system.

Macrophage (“big eater” in Greek) cells are big, white, patient cells that alert other cells about invaders. Once the other warriors attack, the macrophages move in to devour dead and weakened pathogens, cleaning up the battlefield.

Some pathogens can camouflage themselves and sneak past the immune system. However, natural killer cells examine cells that don’t look quite right — like cells infected by a virus — and release a “meal” of proteins near the invader. Much to the enemy’s chagrin, that “meal” proves fatal.

Neutrophils can travel to any part of the body and attack like a shark feeding frenzy. They only live about a day, but they are the most plentiful white cells. They can constantly call in reinforcements, but can, in their zeal, occasionally attack healthy cells, causing inflammation.

B cells aid in the fight by coating the invaders with a sticky substance that keeps them from bonding and slows them down so others can come in for the attack. They remember previous invaders but are slow to recognize new pathogens. It takes time to produce antibodies for new threats, like coronavirus.

T cells are the special ops force of the immune system. They examine the invaders and decipher the best way to neutralize them. They then alert and train other immune cells, all the while monitoring the situation to make sure there is little, if any, collateral damage to healthy cells.

As you can see, the immune system is complex and fascinating. It is an army worth caring for. As we age, our immune systems weaken, making us more susceptible to disease, especially respiratory illnesses. The usual methods for remaining healthy — good diet, exercise, avoiding smoking, alcohol, etc., avoiding stress — can help to keep the immune system functioning at its best. This army may be functioning silently and invisibly, but it should not be forgotten or neglected; it’s YOU they are fighting for!

The Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ created Sacred Heart Villa (formerly St. Michael Convent) in 2003 with the vision of providing a personal care home for the Sisters and other seniors of southeastern Pennsylvania. The Sisters renovated St. Michael in order to create 35 personal care residential rooms. Sacred Heart Villa officially opened her doors to her first new residents in May 2004, with space for 57 Sisters and 40 other senior residents.

The facility has two residential buildings, a remodeled dining room, a new fireside lounge, library, café, and beauty shop. The chapel remains in the middle of the facility for it truly is the Heart of the community. Each new residential room provides an individual with privacy, safety, and security in an environment of beauty and grace. Mass is celebrated each day and is open to the public.

Sacred Heart Villa is now accepting residents. If you are seeking care for yourself or loved one, contact Sacred Heart Villa today at 610-929-5751 for a tour. You can also visit us at sacredheartvillapa.org/.