Minority Male Statistic

I feel very honoured to have been asked to write a small piece for NRAS outlining my story. I am 43 years old and am one of the minority male statistics who has Rheumatoid Arthritis. Wow this feels like AA – not that I have ever attended! Whilst you would guess from my surname I come from Greek origins, but was born and raised in the UK.

I have always been very sporty and have always kept myself fit through gym training.  You may ask what relevance this has?  Well, I was fit, healthy and felt pretty invincible.  Through my studies and career I had tested all the boundaries around how hard I could push myself. It was an absolute shock, therefore, when I found out in the summer of 2007 that I had RA.

Whilst I am well educated, to begin with I was rather reluctant to ask too many questions or perform any kind of research.  I now realise that it was largely through fear of what I might find out.  Instead, I concentrated on coping with the immediate symptoms and tried not to think about what it could actually mean.  My consultant was rather economical in delving into detail which also suited me just fine.  Blissful ignorance seemed a good thing.

We have no history of RA in my family, so to this day I wonder where it came from.  Outside of genetics a commonly quoted cause is stress and I truly think this could be the case with me. 
2004 was a stressful year. I launched my own company, my sister Zoe passed away rather quickly from cancer and we had a legal battle to maintain contact with her daughter.  I got married to my beautiful wife, Mari, and whilst on holiday in Cyprus we got a call telling us that our apartment block had been ravaged by fire and most of our possessions were destroyed.  

The first symptom of RA came in 2005, my right hand started to swell and ache.  I put it down to keyboard and mouse usage.  Over the next 12-18 months this got worse, with my left hand suffering in the same way and my knees causing me extreme pain.  Initially, I thought those symptoms were related to computer use and then sports training.  I eventually sought professional medical advice at the beginning of 2007.

Blood tests and X-rays revealed that I had RA and I was put on a low dose of steroids.  My condition started getting worse with the pain in my knees really becoming a problem.  In September I was started on Methotrexate and folic acid. The dose was increased but my condition worsened so I was moved on to sulphasalzine with diclofenac.  

Throughout 2008 my condition was deteriorating badly.  My whole body was aching with little differentiation between first thing in the morning or the end of the day.  A simple task like lifting the kettle was impossible with one hand and just about possible with two hands.  Turning the ignition to start my car was torture.  I could only bear to sit for 20-30 minutes straight as I would start to have a terrible pain if I did not get up and move around.  I struggled to bend over and pick something up or tie my shoe laces.  Without something to use as a lever I could not get up from the floor on my own.  I was definitely getting tired far more quickly than ever before.

In the midst of this rather dark period in my health my wife and I were matched for adoption with a gorgeous one year old boy. Our son came to live with us in December 2008, he is adored by my wife and I as well as our families and friends.  What an amazing Christmas present and end to such a difficult year.

An application was made to my local authority (Brent) for funding of an anti-TNF drug.  I was warned that the process could take weeks but amazingly it took 3 days from submission of the application to hear back positively.

I was put on Humira in August 2009, which I inject once every two weeks. My expectations were carefully managed and I was informed that it could take several injections before I started seeing any significant benefit.  In practice this drug has been absolutely tremendous.  After my very first injection all the symptoms I described previously disappeared.  On a scale of 1-100 (where 100 would be that I feel absolutely fine) I would say that before I started using Humira I had reached 35.  Immediately after the first use of this drug and subsequently I would say that I am a 97.  I have not taken any other drug in combination but continued for the first week only to take diclofenac. 
Today, I continue to feel great and fighting fit.  I am told that at some point a decision will have to be taken about attempting to take me off Humira altogether.  The downside is that if the symptoms return then Humira is unlikely to have the same affect when restarted.  That will be a difficult decision to make! 

Spring 2011: George Stavrinidis, NRAS Member