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Arthritis Takedown: How Rheumatology Expertise Drove Away Joint Pain

Wednesday, April 24, 2019 2:32 PM

Michelle Boston is full of energy and enthusiasm—just the personality you would expect from a busy grade school teacher. The 26-year-old Chicagoan teaches the fifth and sixth grades in Morton Grove. Beyond the classroom, she is always on the move, enjoying plenty of travel and time with friends and family.

Flashback to just a few years earlier, when Boston’s lively pace came to an unexpected halt. The culprit was crippling joint pain, which began while Boston was attending college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. When an episode of pain hit, it often left her unable to walk. Whether downstate or back home in Chicagoland, she was a frequent visitor to the emergency room.

Turning Point
Fortunately, during one emergency visit at NorthShore Highland Park Hospital, a physician suggested that Boston see a rheumatologist. The recommendation proved to be life-changing. In January 2015, she met with NorthShore Arthritis Center Specialist Justin Gan, MD. “Dr. Gan was with me for almost two hours at that first appointment,” Boston recalled. “He was so thorough and kind.”

Dr. Gan noticed that Boston had psoriasis on her scalp, which can be associated with psoriatic arthritis, a rare autoimmune condition that causes episodic and excruciating pain.
“With more than 100 different types of arthritis, many of them being recognized just within the last decade, it’s not uncommon for a case like Michelle’s to go undiagnosed,” explained Dr. Gan, who holds an academic title at the Pritzker School of Medicine.

“When he called me two days after my appointment to confirm the diagnosis, I remember feeling like I should be crying,” said Boston, “but he was so reassuring and I was relieved to finally have an answer.”

Treatment Advancements
“The good news is we now have medications that are much better than they used to be to treat patients like Michelle. In the last two to three years, we have new biologic options that can reduce the frequency of symptoms,” added Dr. Gan.

Working in partnership with her specialist, Boston found the right medication for her—adalimumab—and has been completely symptom- and pain-free for the past year of taking regular injections. “One of the great things about Dr. Gan is that he never just gave me a prescription,” noted Boston. “He gave me choices and we talked about them. I felt like I was making my own decisions with the best guidance from an expert.”

Dr. Gan Fan 
“I am so lucky to have Dr. Gan. I know his schedule is so busy, but he always finds time to squeeze me in when I need it. I can’t rave about him enough,” said Boston, who keeps up with her medications and appointments through the NorthShoreConnect mobile app. 

Grateful to have her pain-free life back, Boston has become an advocate for others and a top fundraiser for the Arthritis Foundation’s annual Walk to Cure Arthritis, where she will be the adult honoree in May.

“You shouldn’t have to be held back because of this disease,” said Boston. “I do it for all the kids who have to sit out at gym class because they’re in pain.”

“What Michelle does provides a huge benefit for others with psoriatic arthritis and other rheumatologic syndromes,” said Dr. Gan. “Seeing someone like Michelle gives others hope.”