29 June 2012

Pregnancy triggers arthritis

Photography by Abigail Harman

Jane Auguston was overjoyed, she was pregnant with her first child and was about to give birth, such a beautiful time in her life.  What Jane didn’t realise however was this life changing and joyous occasion would soon be overshadowed by the onset of a painful and life changing disease.  Jane was only 21. 
After the birth of Jane’s first child, Kirsty, she started to notice things weren’t quite right. “I put on 11 kilograms during my first pregnancy. Once Kirsty was born I lost 11 kilograms in hospital and then in a week of leaving hospital, I lost another 7 kgs but my fingers were still fat…She was a happy baby and so I was eating fine, but I couldn’t understand all the weight loss, and swollen joints… it took a couple months before I could put my rings back on. I thought it was just because she was my first baby that my fingers retained fluid…”
Then at 23, Jane had baby number two, Aaron. “A few months after I had him, overnight my knees just blew up like balloons. I had track pants on and the pants were bulging at the seams. My ankles also blew up.” She recalled.  With a 2 year old toddler, an infant, and a husband to take care of, the struggle and pain of walking wasn’t an option. The young mother eagerly searched for treatment and a diagnosis for this sudden inflammation in her joints. Jane saw numerous GPs to try and rid her of the pain however, frustratingly she was continuously receiving ineffective medication while having fluid from her joints incorrectly drained.  “My mother, being a nurse, told me to see a specialist she knew. I said that I would see one final GP first. When I saw the GP, he said “you have arthritis, take Asprin.”
Fed up with the lack of results Jane decided to see the specialist.
Jane packed 3 month old Aaron into the car and drove from Albany to Perth to see Dr Graeme Carrol, Rheumatologist. “He drained so much fluid from my knees, and then told me ‘No walking, don’t walk at all, only to go to the toilet, if you need to eat, someone will have to bring you your food.’” Jane needed hospital care straight away, however the young mother had to wait several days until a room became available for both her and her baby.
A few days later, Jane and Aaron were emitted to Shenton Park Hospital. “The staffs were great all I had to do was feed him, because I couldn’t do anything else. They took such good care of us. I received all my essential medications then soon after, for some reason, my arthritis symptoms went away… no swelling, no pain… nothing. ” 
Jane was pain free, the arthritis seemed to have vanished, and she was once again able to freely run around after her children. However she didn’t realise the disease was actually lying dormant. When Jane fell pregnant 18 months later the arthritis came back with vengeance.
At 25 Jane’s arthritis not only came back by viciously attacking all her joints in her body, but she also gave birth to a beautiful son, Dylan, who unfortunately was born with Ataxia Cerebral Palsy. When asking Jane how she managed to look after her condition and her son, Dylan, she welled up with tears, it was clear to me she has always put her son before herself.
Jane now a wife and mother to 3 beautiful children aged 4, 2 and a newborn, began searching for medication so she could tackle this disease and be able to look after her family. “I wanted a drug which enabled me to run around with the kids while they were young, I wasn’t too worried about the long term side effects… there is a high chance I could get stomach ulcers, but I am hoping by that time I get them someone has invented a treatment to cure them.”
After Dylan was born Jane saw a dramatic change in the useability of her hands, she struggled opening things such as jars while cooking, “with Dylan nappy pins were too hard to change. So I had to say too bad for the environment, I have to go to disposable diapers.” She recalled. Unlike many young people now currently living with arthritis (because of advances in medicine) Jane carries the visible signs of arthritis. In her early thirties Jane’s toes began to deform, followed by her hands a couple years later. “It started with the toes curling over…I have had a few operations on them now, where they have attempted to straighten them all with pins.” 
Now in their mid-forties Jane and her husband only have one child at home, though their life still seems busy. Having a wheelchair-bound child with Cerebral Palsy, Jane and her husband’s days require assisting Aaron with everyday tasks, such as showering and being home mornings and afternoons to get Aaron on and off the car which takes him to work. 
Though Jane still finds time to try and manage her condition by keeping active.  She has a personal trainer, with a medical background, who she praises and sees once a week, whilst also attempting to go to spin class every week. “It can be frustrating with personal training when you want to do something, because you can’t grip it or hold on it.” She explains, while showing me how the joints in her wrists are fused together, restricting all movement of the wrist. Jane realises however that her body is better off by her keeping active, and she sees the benefits of keeping strong for the future, not only for herself but for her family as well.

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