One Man’s Long Journey to an RA Diagnosis
Andy Pendergrass grew up in rural Louisiana as an extremely active and athletic child. But he still had in mind the fact that his mother and maternal grandmother suffered from rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Pendergrass knew his family history meant his chances of having the autoimmune disease were higher than average, but he ruled out that possibility.
“I played football in high school, so something always hurt me,” says Pendergrass, 33. Even if he had had an idea that it could be RA, “I would have just said ‘I’m a guy. Guys don’t understand… ‘and just generalized it like that. “
At 23, Pendergrass finally learned that he too had RA. But the path to his diagnosis was neither simple nor straightforward. And it took a while for Pendergrass to come to terms with his condition.
A delayed diagnosis
Pendergrass now suspects that his RA symptoms started much earlier, in high school. It was then that he noticed a pain that seemed “strange” to him. Still, he attributed the symptoms to plantar fasciitis, a form of heel pain common in those who participate in strenuous sports.
It wasn’t until Pendergrass went to his doctor with a serious sinus infection that he saw a doctor for his foot pain. The doctor, Pendergrass says, agreed it could be plantar fasciitis, “until I mentioned it was really bad in my toes.”
Realizing that RA was present in Pendergrass’ family, the doctor ordered blood tests. A few days later, the doctor called to confirm a diagnosis of RA and referred Pendergrass to a rheumatologist.
The rheumatologist, however, told Pendergrass that his symptoms weren’t from RA, but from flat feet.
The new verdict left Pendergrass deeply confused. “I have a really big arch on my feet so it was weird,” he says.
At the time, Pendergrass was preparing to move to Alaska with his new wife. He didn’t have time to sort through the conflicting diagnoses. “I decided not to worry about the pain and just put it off.
It wasn’t until later, when Pendergrass moved to Missouri, and his joint pains continued, that he decided to get a second opinion. A new rheumatologist has confirmed that Pendergrass does indeed suffer from RA.
The news had a mental and emotional impact on Pendergrass, a young man who enjoyed physical activity.
“Back then, the biggest question I was concerned about was what the rest of my life was going to be like,” he says.
Acceptance of her lifelong condition came after time, research, and support, especially from Pendergrass’ mother.
“It’s hard for people who don’t have the disease to understand. Because you can’t look at me and tell when I’m having a relapse, ”he says. “It’s one of the things she understands.”
Look to the future and reach out
In the decade since his diagnosis, Pendergrass has managed to keep his athletic dreams alive, even though he can’t really play sports without hesitation, as he had imagined. Over the past two years, he’s also dabbled in CrossFit – a form of high-intensity interval training exercise that involves squats, pull-ups and push-ups with adjustable weights – and enjoys playing golf. . He credits CrossFit workouts for strengthening his muscles and reducing stress on his joints.
“I want to maximize the time I have to be an athlete. This is my passion; that’s where I get my frustration and I feel free, ”he says. “And I don’t want RA to play with it. If that means I need to eat healthy, avoid inflammatory foods, and stretch more, then so be it.
Pendergrass returned to its home state of Louisiana a few years ago. Living with chronic illness can be isolating, especially for those who live outside of major cities. But social media has given Pendergrass a way to find support and bond with others.
Recently, he created an Instagram account @rheumadad to share his journey.
“Honestly, if there are young guys out there, I would really love to get in touch with them. Because I think we’re missing a community of young men with arthritis who can empathize, share ideas and feel like I belong, ”he says.
Pendergrass now has two young sons. The idea that his children could become the fourth generation with RA crossed his mind. But Pendergrass refuses to dwell on it.
“I don’t allow these thoughts to really take hold in my mind. I know it is possible. I’m not going to put my head in the sand. And so, if that happens, we’ll take care of it. It will break my heart.
“The rest of your life will not be consumed by RA. You can leave it… but you shouldn’t. Life is more than RA.
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