I am a 30 year old who inherited a lifelong inflammatory disease called ankylosing spondylitis (AS). AS can cause the spine to fuse together from bone spurs and can affect organs and other joints. AS causes significant pain, to put it lightly.
I am also a former college athlete and marathoner. I know what it means to push through pain as an athlete. But I cannot push through the pain caused by my disease. Pushing through it causes the disease to progress and the pain to increase.
My main treatment is a drug made from living cells (the same class of drugs that treats many cancers); it helps slow the progression of my disease. Because this treatment is [finally!] working, it also reduces some of the worst symptoms. But AS is a severe disease with no cure, so even with this specialty drug I still have plenty of pain.
Today, Congresswoman Doris Matsui hosted a press conference in Sacramento in response to the Graham-Cassidy healthcare bill. I was invited to share my healthcare story as a Chronic Disease Patient Advocate alongside several elected officials in attendance, including the Congresswoman, California State Senator Dr. Richard Pan, California State Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, and Councilmember Angelique Ashby.
My father died last September. He was 68. He experienced severe, debilitating pain from his early teenage years until his death. I now experience similar pain from the same disease he had, Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS), and I fear daily that my life will follow the same path his did.
My dad looked like this (below) because he did not have access from a young age to effective treatments to slow down the progression of his disease:
He didn’t have access to the treatments because they didn’t exist until 2003, when the first biologic drug was approved for treating patients with AS. By that time he was already a 90-degree hunchback, his spine fused in a rigid column of bone from knobby, painful bone spurs – he was slowly suffocating. The only thing a biologic drug could do was prolong his life and perhaps reduce some of the symptoms.
He died after two surgeries meant to straighten his spine, relieve his organs from being crushed, and give him a more horizontal line of sight. He’d been looking straight down at the ground for decades, unable to see in front of him unless he pivoted his body backwards with one foot pushed toe-first into the ground.
You haven’t seen me on social media much lately. This is because the first battle to keep the Affordable Care Act in place – 5 weeks ago – did me in. I haven’t been the same since. My mental health has dipped to depths I never knew existed. I can’t eat. I’ve lost 10 pounds (have you seen how thin I already was????). I can’t focus on faces, voices, places, things. And I’m in such awful, awful pain. I thought I was broken before – it’s worse now.
I didn’t know it could get worse.
I’m scared for myself; not for what I might do, but for what my body continues to lose. I’m functioning on the surface, but then again, charades was something I always won. My life feels more foreign each day.
You would have thought I breathed a sigh of relief and celebrated when Speaker Ryan pulled the American Health Care Act in March, not having enough votes.
Let’s say, just, you know, maybe, could be, hypothetically, I’m living under the Republican-proposed American Health Care Act.
And before I begin, I want to note that I did all of this without a preconceived notion of what the outcome would be. I chose pretty (really) conservative cost estimates to give the American Health Care Act the benefit of the doubt, and to see if, in a hypothetical situation, I would be able to afford the healthcare I need under the proposed system change.
Say I’m 30 (as I am) and, for this example, I’m still able to work. Let’s say I earn $30,000 per year. But it doesn’t matter what I make, because the “tax credit” is now based on age and not income (unless I make over a certain amount). So, as a 30 year old, I get a $2,500 per year tax credit to either A) put into an un-taxed health savings account, from where I can draw money to cover medical expenses, or B) go towards paying the premium of any plan I choose that is considered an “eligible individual health insurance policy” (for instance, I wouldn’t be able to use the tax credit for a plan that covered abortion). Let’s just go with option B for this experiment. Continue reading I Did Some Math to See if I Could Afford the American Health Care Act. Here’s What I Found.→
The first time I used a wheelchair was after tearing my ACL during a college soccer match in Washington, D.C. in 2005. My teammates convinced me to use one when we visited the Holocaust Museum, instead of crutches. I remember feeling invisible. I remember being trapped in the middle of congested hallways and exhibit rooms, seeing nothing but the backs of people scooting around and in front of me like I was a planter box in their way. I remember feeling empathy for people who spend a majority of their lives in a wheelchair. I hardly remember anything about the museum from that visit. And I became terrified of ever needing to use a wheelchair again.
On January 21st, 2017, I rolled in the Women’s March on Sacramento alongside some 30,000 people. I have only recently, very reluctantly, decided to begin using a wheelchair because of deteriorating health. My experience from college still haunts me, but I am learning to embrace how much more fully I can participate in life by using assistive devices that reduce pain and fatigue caused by Ankylosing Spondylitis. It’s the difference between staying home and showing up.
However, I was nervous about navigating the march, even with friends to help push me. I expected that I would spend all my energy advocating for space just to be able to proceed in a straight line. I thought I might regret the decision to use the chair, even though not using it could result in being bedridden for days or weeks.
The Affordable Care Act (affectionately termed Obamacare) is likely to be repealed in a few months.
I’m told personal stories are powerful, so I want to share mine.
I was always going to be healthy. Aside from a slight concern when I quit a job that offered health insurance and took another job without it, I never once considered I would need a team of doctors. I boast a background as a college athlete, professional mover (yes, heavy furniture, etc) and otherwise health-aware person.
But my body lied to me.
Nearly four years ago, I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis, a severe disease that causes rampant and painful inflammation in the spine and other joints in the body, sometimes leading to the growth of bone spurs that fuse spinal vertebrae and hips. I wasn’t diagnosed by a healthcare provider at first – I found out I inherited this disease from my father after matching our symptoms.