Joppe’s story with ankylosing spondylitis

Joppe is a 33-year-old landscape architect from Netherlands with a love for cycling and bushwalking. 4 years ago, he started getting lower back pains. Despite regular visits to the physiotherapist there was no improvement. In fact, he kept presenting with additional physical symptoms every time he returned to his GP. When he was finally referred to a rheumatologist later that year, he was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis.

The diagnosis was a relief for Joppe as it meant they could plan a treatment pathway moving forward. Psychologically though, it was difficult for Joppe as his usually fit and able body was progressively getting weaker.

When Joppe and his partner moved to Australia at the end of 2017, the warmer weather seemed to have temporarily improved his conditions. However, 3 months in, the symptoms started to worsen. “I had just migrated to a new country and started a new job,” Joppe said, “Getting my head around the new culture and new job was challenging in itself, but on top of that I was fatigued and sore all the time.” He was forced to stop running and cycling. “It had a big impact on my mental health,” he admitted.

An appointment with a local rheumatologist started him on some anti-inflammatory medications which had minimal effect. At this stage he started to experience more pain and had difficulties climbing up the stairs or getting off a chair. “I felt like a very old man,” said Joppe, “My toes were swollen, my knees, hips, groin and back were sore and I had itchy skin rashes on my legs.” Physiotherapy didn’t help alleviate any of the symptoms Joppe was experiencing.

After several different treatments, Joppe’s symptoms improved. He has been regularly cycling 150km a week and is looking forward to his 2300km cycling trip around NSW over five weeks, after which he will be starting a new job.

When asked what he would like to share to the community, he had this to say: “I’d like to share what my rheumatologist said to me - don’t accept it or get used to it; you can get your life back and live a full and normal life. Initially this message was hard to believe, but he was right. It is a hopeful message and helped me through some of the darker moments.”

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March 2021. AU-HUMR-210001