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Three Stories of Life with PsA

Richard Kandalec Blazes a New Trail

Psoriatic arthritis has created plenty of challenges for Richard Kandalec, but the 65-year-old has found
ways to continue the outdoors activities he loves. Kandalec was diagnosed with psoriasis in his early 30s. Embarrassed by the red, flaky skin patches, the Mentor, Ohio, resident often wore long sleeves, even in the summer and in the woodworking, welding and industrial arts classes he taught – which was risky because his clothes could catch on the machines.

When Kandalec learned a few years later that he also had psoriatic arthritis, he says, “It was tough.” He tried numerous medications before finding one that worked. Still, he’s had to have joint surgery in both thumbs, several fingers and toes, and fusion surgery in his wrist. He manages his PsA with medications and, on the advice of his health care team, he cut out gluten due to an allergy and takes supplements containing turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

And he gets creative to keep doing what he loves. A drummer, he uses Gig Grip bands to hold his drumsticks, and although he had to give up mountain biking, in 2014 he logged more than 1,600 miles on his three-wheeled recumbent cycle. Kandalec also works for a local park system, giving lessons in snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. “I have to be aware of my limitations, but I have adapted fairly well,” he says. “I found the recumbent bicycle and I found a way to play the drums. I am happy.”

Nandi Thorn Takes the Next Step for her Future

At 32 and a newlywed, Nandi Thorn was at a crossroads. Diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis in 2008, she kept her symptoms mostly controlled without medication since 2011. Then, she started having constant discomfort in her right knee, and then stiffness in her right hip, too. She said her PsA was fairly mild compared with other cases, but she knew she might have to start medication again to prevent further damage to her joints.

As her rheumatologist said years ago, “You don’t want to ruin your joints, especially at your young age.” She had had psoriasis, but had never heard of psoriatic arthritis, so when her right knee started hurting and swelling in 2007, she saw several doctors before she was finally diagnosed with PsA. She was relieved to have a diagnosis, but the medication caused intense fatigue, acne and hair loss. Still, it seemed to control her disease, and in 2011, her rheumatologist gave her the OK to go off her meds. Since then, she has managed her symptoms by trying to avoid her triggers for flares – “stress, not getting enough sleep, and travel,” she says. She travels for work, but she practices yoga to relieve stress, gets plenty of sleep and tries to eat healthfully.

She also works out five or six days per week, mixing yoga with running. “[Exercise] has always been very important to me, not only to stay healthy, but also to clear my mind,” she says. Her recent aches prompted Thorn to schedule an appointment with her rheumatologist. “I was very open to medication,” she says. “I understand you can’t do everything naturally.” But she wanted a medication she can tolerate better. “My arthritis has been manageable up to this this point,” she says. “But I need to protect my joints. That is a big priority.”

Andre Check Gets a Second Chance

In 2011, college student, Andrew Check didn’t know what was wrong with him. He was in constant pain, could barely walk, and at 21 years old, he thought he’d never be able to finish college or play music again. He sprained his ankle and iced it, but a month later, not only had the pain intensified in his left ankle, but his right foot hurt, too. Within weeks, the 6-foot, 2-inch, 220-pound sophomore was using a cane. “The pain was so bad it was the only alternative I had,” he says.

His doctors said plantar fasciitis, collapsed arches, maybe gout, but no treatments helped. He could stand for only 20 minutes at a time. At home in Chesterland, Ohio, he resorted to crawling. And his hands swelled – a huge setback for Check, who performs Hungarian music on a cimbalom (similar to a hammer dulcimer) that’s been in his family for nearly a century. “I thought I was going to have to give up my music,” he says. Depressed, he lost 40 pounds. “At the darkest point during my struggle with arthritis, I felt that I wasn’t going to be able to finish my education.”
In 2013, he finally saw a rheumatologist who noticed flaking on his scalp and diagnosed psoriatic arthritis (PsA). After trying a few disease-modifying medications, he found one that worked – and got fast relief. The morning after his first dose, his pain was gone.

These days, he’s playing the cimbalom, again. Although he still has flares, “they are much more manageable than the constant pain I had,” he says. He stretches every morning, wears comfy shoes and listens to his body. Most important, “I keep looking forward,” he says. “I had a close call, and now I have a chance to do everything I planned to do. It feels like I was reborn.”