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Chronically in Control: Life with Arthritis

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Chris Pudlak started experiencing back pain at age 35. He didn’t think anything of it because he had a newborn and two young kids at home.

“I attributed the pain to carrying the baby,” he said.

Thinking it would go away over time, Pudlak didn’t see a doctor. Then, one year later, while travelling home from a family vacation in Europe, his flight was delayed.

“I slept on the floor, and we flew out the next morning. I went straight to the office because I didn’t want to miss another day of work,” Pudlak said. “After that, I crashed. All the symptoms suddenly hit me.”

Pudlak’s big toe started swelling and the pain spread to his feet, hands and knee. The symptoms worsened to the point where he could no longer fully bend his knee. Pudlak’s doctor prescribed different medications and referred him to a rheumatologist. Then, after one test, he had an answer: ankylosing spondylitis – a type of inflammatory arthritis that affects more men than women.

“The onset was very severe, and I was scared,” Pudlak said. “I had some minor back pain the year before, but by July 2016, I was immobile.”

Finding Answers

With this diagnosis came a lot of fear. Pudlak worried that he wouldn’t be able to support his family and be there for his kids while dealing with an incurable chronic disease.

“My doctor told me that it’s not something you die from; it’s something you die with. It’s a permanent condition,” Pudlak said. “That was a life-changing moment. I knew I had to make some serious changes.”

Pudlak began documenting everything, including the food he ate, the time he ate, the impact of different drugs, diets, and exercise on his symptoms, and more.

He also joined the Patient Advisory Board at Arthritis Research Canada, the leading clinical arthritis research organization in North America.

“When I was first diagnosed, I knew very little about arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis…I didn’t even know how to pronounce it,” Pudlak said.

At Arthritis Research Canada, patients are involved in all aspects of research to ensure the results benefit people living with arthritis. Pudlak wanted to get involved for two main reasons. First, to share his experience with researchers and other people living with arthritis. Second, to learn from researchers working to find answers for people like him. 

For Pudlak, arthritis changed everything. He went from cycling to work, hiking, and doing 10K runs to struggling to walk down the sidewalk and using two hands to turn the key in his car’s ignition.

Today, he controls his health by swimming, cycling to work and eating a healthy diet. While Pudlak still deals with some pain, his self-care strategies allow him to live a full life with arthritis.

“My best advice for other people who receive a diagnosis like mine is if you fall down nine times, get up nine times,” Pudlak said. “It’s important to find what works for you, listen to your body, and definitely don’t give up.”

Learn more about Chris Pudlak’s story. 

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