I am 6’7″ tall, I can dunk a basketball, and I have ankylosing spondylitis. I am really looking forward to graduating high school and starting college where I plan to study Engineering/Computer Science.
I was diagnosed with AS right before Christmas when I was in 8th grade. I noticed that I began lumbering down the stairs in the morning; I was sore and my back and hips were stiff. I thought it was maybe because of a tough workout the day before, but I began to figure out that it wasn’t associated with a tough physical workout, or anything else for that matter; it was just happening. The thought that it might be AS crept into my mind. You see, my older sister has AS, and she was diagnosed when she was in 8th grade too, and I knew AS runs in families. I did not complain, but my parents noticed how I was moving in the morning and we all knew it was time to see the doctor.
The HLA-B27 test came back positive, and my orthopaedic doctor referred me to a pediatric rheumatologist who practices out of UCLA Medical Center. Its nearly a 2 hour drive for me, but so worth it. She has me on the right combination of medication: an anti-inflammatory and a TNF-Inhibitor, and prescribes physical therapy for me when I am experiencing a flare up. I use some topical homeopathic anti-inflammatories when I need it too. These have all worked pretty well, and have allowed me to continue to play basketball at a competitive level. I was the starting center for my team every game for this year, and we qualified for CIF Championship playoffs.
I missed quite a few first and second period classes in high school over the last four years. There were many mornings when I needed to take an extra long shower, or wait to go to school until the anti-inflammatory was working, or even to take extra time to stretch or ice my back – whatever it took to reduce the stiffness and soreness I was experiencing so that I could get to school. Then I had to remain extremely diligent, and work especially hard to do all the makeup work and stay caught up with the homework. That is not easy to do when you are not pain free. But perseverance pays off. I was just selected Scholar-Athlete of the Week for our county in the newspaper.
I know that AS will be with me for my lifetime. It has changed me in some ways – I am now more patient, perseverant, and disciplined than I was before. I became a founding member of the Support Group for Teens with Spondylitis, you can see my picture on this SWIFT website, and I facebook with other teens with AS so that we can support each other and never feel alone in fighting this disease on a daily basis. Sharing my story keeps me motivated that my experiences can help someone to stay hopeful, to not give up on their dream because they have AS. I hope that in reading this you may gain some understanding about AS and how we all need to continue to support the Spondylitis Association so that someday researchers will find a way to prevent or cure this disease.