Surviving and Thriving with Arthritis

by Sue Taggart

Rheumatoid Arthritis—an autoimmune disease currently has no cure–but there are more options for managing symptoms and achieving a state of remission than when I was diagnosed in 1988.

The summer of ’88 was certainly one to remember! I woke one Saturday morning and could hardly put any weight on my elbows and knees’, getting out of bed was difficult, and walking was a painful challenge. Within two weeks I was experiencing a full-blown RA flare up—but at that point didn’t know it. My knees and ankles had disappeared and the swelling was so severe I resembled the Pillsbury doughboy! I went to see a local doctor who thought it looked like RA and he referred me to The Hospital for Special Surgery in NYC. There my six-month nightmare began. I cannot describe the pain; I prefer to lock it in a little box in the back of my mind.

The specialists I was seeing at the Arthritis Clinic were wonderful individuals, very concerned for their patients, but offering only drug options and basic physical therapy to reduce the symptoms. At the time my resources were very limited. I had only been in the US a short while and had not discovered alternative (integrated) medicine. So, I did what my doctors advised. The most frightening part of the diagnosis was the list of things I would not be able to do, in the foreseeable future, or possibly ever again, they included: wearing high heels, dancing and even working full time. Worse case scenario, I might end up in wheel chair—permanently, plus, the drugs had some pretty serious side effects and in order to suppress my symptoms I would have to take these drugs for extended periods of time throughout my life. Not exactly what I wanted to hear.

About three months into the process, going to the hospital three days a week, I came to the conclusion there had to be another way. While the cortisone was bringing the pain level down from a 10 to a barely manageable 7, I was only existing, not living. I remember that they used smiley faces and frowning faces to pinpoint the pain level, there should have been a screaming face!  I was experiencing inflammation in virtually all my joints, ankles, knees, fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders. Shuffling around in shoes 2 sizes larger than normal and moving at the pace of a 90 year old, when I was only 38, I was utterly miserable, depressed and hopeless.

At that time the idea that diet and nutrition could play a role in managing RA was not even on the radar screen and you couldn’t go online and do your own research like you can today. However, I caught a lucky break.  I had just started a marketing and advertising company in New York and had the great fortune to meet a man who ran a botanical ingredient company. At our first business meeting as I made my way, very slowly into their conference room, he noticed my discomfort and asked what was wrong. I told him and the next two hours he dispensed his herbal knowledge and for the first time since my diagnosis I felt a glimmer of hope. Everything he said made perfect sense.

I was able, with a combination of herbal extracts which included Devil’s Claw and Cat’s Claw, dietary supplements like Evening Primrose Oil and Royal Jelly and dietary changes which included cutting out dairy and red meat, to reduce the inflammation. In six months I had the pain under control, was off all drugs and was in remission.

Since then, there have been great strides in treatment options. But, I choose not to take drugs on a long-term basis. I adjust my diet and supplement regimen as I need to, I know my body and take notice of the warning signs—fatigue is the big one. When I’m over-worked and over-stressed, fatigue kicks in and I ignore it at my peril! I have managed RA for almost twenty-five years, I wear high heels, I dance and I work more hours than anyone in my company. I credit this to one man, Frank D’Amelio Sr, a positive attitude and the natural product industry.

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