In my late 20s, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with end-stage osteoarthritis (OA) in my ankle — and told that, at some point, I’d need to have my ankle fused. Fresh out of law school and still playing basketball multiple times per week, the news came as a total shock. As a former college athlete, I was devastated that I might never be able to shoot hoops with my own kids.
For 15 years, I tried anything and everything to avoid ankle fusion surgery. The possibility of it scared me. I envisioned a future where I would be unable to move my ankle permanently and was determined to avoid surgery.
Overcoming emotional and mental challenges
During this period, the physical pain was a huge part of my journey. But the emotional and mental aspects of OA were just as challenging. The diagnosis really limited what I could do with my family. Daily, I’d wonder how I would manage simple things like grocery shopping and carrying my kids around. And when it came to family trips, I’d plan the entire vacation around activities that didn’t involve much movement.
Desperately searching for an all-encompassing resource to learn about treatments and options for managing my disease, I tried every OA treatment available. From stem cell therapy to assistive devices, and even participating in clinical trials. During this time, I also began volunteering with the Arthritis Foundation of Greater Kansas City (AFGKC) and eventually joined their board of directors. I found a deep sense of meaning and connection, sharing my story with young people and speaking about overcoming the challenges of arthritis.
After exhausting my options for managing OA without surgery, I eventually had ankle fusion therapy, which virtually cured my arthritis pain. I’m so grateful for it. And it has changed my life for the better. Recovery took about a year. But today I’m able to walk, run, jog and do things I hadn’t been able to do for 20 years.
Finding my community
My pain management journey has been a long and winding road. And until I discovered the Arthritis Foundation, it was a lonely one, too. Now, as a patient advocate, I work to ensure patients that you can more quickly and easily gain access to the wealth of resources the Arthritis Foundation offers.
Through the Arthritis Foundation, I have all the resources needed right at my fingertips, including treatment options, pain management tips, suggestions for physical activities and local groups and events to connect with right here in my own community. I also track my pain in between doctor’s appointments, which has helped ensure more accurate and informative discussions when it’s been months since my doctor and I talked. I only wish that I had access to this 20 years ago, when first learning about my diagnosis. For anyone going through this journey, know that you do not have to spend years looking for solutions and educating yourself in isolation, like I did.Today, I lead an active life as a busy trial attorney and father of two, outside of my role as a Patient Leadership Council member. While I can’t play basketball at the same level I did in college, I am still physically active — swimming, cycling, walking and weightlifting. For young people diagnosed with arthritis: My hope for you is to live a healthy, active life and, importantly, surround yourself with the support and resources needed to keep moving forward — even through the tough times.