It’s taken a while to gain confidence and trust myself but I’m now running 3-4 times a week covering approx. 30-40k

I should be the new Rory Underwood… 18 years ago, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and like many fellow sufferers it has been aggressive, and tough to live with at times. It blighted what should have been the best years of my life whilst nurturing my young family.

Hello I’m Matt, 52 years old, happily married to Claire for 22 years. We have 2 children, Annie and Benjamin. The three of them are beautiful, smart, caring and lovely and I’m lucky to have them.

I had a relatively sporty childhood, but I was never as successful as I dreamed . I wanted to be the new Rory Underwood; I was a bit of a speed merchant.

However, I struggled with joint pains early on, and the school ‘Doctor’ diagnosed Osgood–Schlatter disease (Inflammation of the patella). I could have been suffering with RA, but back then it was “stiff upper lip and stop complaining lad”. How things have changed, and for the better!

I got on with life until the joint pains returned but more severe this time. Mainly ‘Squeaky knees’, which were occasionally hot, red, and marginally inflamed. I felt more tired (fatigued) than usual, and not ‘quite right’. Little did I know these symptoms were the indicators of troubled times ahead.

Finally, the day arrived, and feeling feverish, assuming an imminent cold I went to bed. I woke early with excruciating pains in my knees, elbows, wrists, and hands. My left knee was swollen like a football. I could not believe how far my skin had stretched. My GP, with a tone of concern, care and annoyance ordered me to A&E. He phoned ahead and told them to expect a gentleman with query septic arthritis. On many occasions he and his wonderful colleagues have been my angels, and I truly cannot thank them enough.

Arriving at A&E was an experience. Before I could say, “hello my leg hurts a bit”, I was on a gurney being prepped for surgery and a ‘wash-out’. Almost 2 inpatient weeks later, and following numerous IV antibiotics, I was discharged but with no real answers. The next few years were pretty tough. Following numerous visits to NHS specialists I was eventually diagnosed with Zero-negative Rheumatoid Arthritis (amongst other things).

At this point My CRP and Rheumatoid factor were constantly high. I was put straight onto varied combinations of DMARDS. None of which worked, other than to help me lose a hell lot of weight and the remaining bit of hair I had left (I’d planned to cultivate a Bobby Charlton comb-over (god bless him).

During the following years, Steroid injections became my salvation. Either directly into the joint or in my bottom. I did not care a jot. All I craved was the short-term relief they offered. This was a deeply horrible, dark, depressing and upsetting period of time with no obvious end in sight. Hospital stays, extremely painful and swollen joints, constantly being drained, trying to hold down a stressful job, support my family, hide the pain, remain positive and not give in. It was hard going. There were many periods where my wife helped me dress, I couldn’t walk, and I felt totally stripped of my dignity. I was also flirting with addiction to strong pain killers. I believed back then that I couldn’t live without them.

During this period my disease was assessed significant to warrant biologic treatment. When I say, ‘my disease’, that’s is genuinely how I feel about it, it’s mine. I believe that if I keep some of it to myself (in my head) then I can control it, and it will never get the better of me. Personally, this has kept me sane over the years (although when it’s bad I talk to it, or rather swear at it).

The first few biologic treatments failed after a while, and I started to feel defeated. However, I’m happy to report that I’m now settled and thriving on Abatacept (Orencia), and for the first time in years, I’m in remission!

I’ll briefly mention – during this time a fly landed in the ointment. I had a heart attack, and the penny didn’t drop until I was stented. A strange time really with many new and different drugs to remember. Again, our wonderful NHS came to the rescue. We’re so lucky in the UK. No real harm done though, I’m in good health in this area too.

It’s taken a while to gain confidence and trust myself but I’m now running 3-4 times a week covering approx. 30-40k. Something I never believed I could do again. Matt v’s RA a significant battle won! I’ve enrolled onto my first half marathon and I’m planning full marathons thereafter (fingers crossed).

I can’t believe my luck. I love it. The sense of achievement, the feeling of freedom, and above all else a sense of personal pride again. Throughout all this I’ve felt supported by those close to me. Its infinite how that support has manifested – a regular text – humour – hugs – understanding looks – patience – phone calls out of the blue – a random gift – a telling off – running at a slower pace to match mine – researching RA and treatments. But one of the biggies and extremely important is…people who understand that without warning I occasionally pull out of a commitment. If you have RA you’ll know what I mean, it’s a confidence thing, an over whelming feeling of what if(?).

I’ve also had THE BEST CARE from the RA team at The Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield. Their high standards of care actually motivates oneself to keep going, and I shall remain eternally grateful to them all. That motivation and feeling that somebody has you, is acutely important. NRAS produce great information, education and are forever there. Reading inspirational stories from others like me, and those suffering worse than I has motivated me too. There are some truly inspirational people in our society. Not just footballers, politicians, and actors – they are regular people who put up with irregular lives with dignity and decency.

Am I not bitter? Not really. It isn’t anyone’s fault I have this disease, but I’ll admit it’s taken me a while to come to terms with it. I believe there is a lack of understanding around RA, and it’s important to help raise awareness, research funds and support. You never know I might meet Rory one day, so I’d better look the part in a pair of shorts.