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Healthy You

Past the Pain: Kelly's Story

Friday, February 12, 2016 9:08 AM

Kelly Pierce was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 15, and required several major surgeries, pills and treatments in order to just manage her condition. After she began seeing Barbara Drevlow, MD, and the team at NorthShore’s Rheumatology and Osteoporosis department, she was able to explore new personalized treatment options and advanced medicine, as well as benefit from collaborations between NorthShore and Mayo Clinic.

In her NorthShore patient story, Kelly talks about how her personalized care allowed her to enjoy an active and healthy life.

What lead to your initial diagnosis?
I was an Irish dancer and captain of the cheerleading squad, and my knees started bothering me. I noticed that I couldn’t bend them as well without pain. I saw a few different doctors and had a bunch of tests before they realized it was rheumatoid arthritis.

In what ways did being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at such a young age affect you and your life?
It was hard because I didn’t know anyone else that had it. I had to go to the hospital once a week for an IV that made me sick, so I ended up only going to school for 4 days a week. I had to quit Irish dancing and cheerleading.

What lead you to Dr. Drevlow and NorthShore? How has she changed the way you manage your symptoms?
I was seeing Dr. Golbus, and when I got the letter that has was not going to be practicing anymore, I cried. He listed a few of the other doctors in his group, and I met with 2 of them. I really liked Dr. Drevlow, so I decided to stick with her. We have a great relationship, and I really trust what she has to say. Our patient/doctor relationship has turned into a friendship.

Has it been easy to work monthly infusions into your routine? How has your health improved or changed since you began these treatments?
I don’t think I will ever get used to going to the hospital once a month for an IV, but I know it is something I need to do. The treatment, plus the mixture of meds I take are what gets me out of bed in the morning.

Your journey with rheumatoid arthritis has led to some amazing activism – what are some of your goals for the future? Do you have any events in the works?
We just finished our 3rd Jingle Bell Walk for Arthritis in December. The Arthritis Foundation chose me as the adult honoree, and our team raised $21,545, and recruited 114 people to walk with us. We plan to do more fundraisers this year so we can recruit more walkers and raise more money.

Through all of your health challenges, you’ve kept a positive attitude. How has this impacted your life? Why do you think it’s important to stay positive throughout these experiences?
It has had a big impact on my life. I have to be very careful in everything I do, but I don’t let it bring me down.

I am very lucky to have a great support system. My husband is a big part of what keeps me going and keeps me positive. He is there for all my appointments and helps with all the tough decisions. With him, I know we can get through anything.

What advice would you give to other patients with rheumatoid arthritis?
It’s going to be hard at first, but once you find the right mixture of meds, you will be okay. Work with your doctors on what will be best for you. If you’re not comfortable with something, tell them so they can find something that will work for you.