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A New Way Forward

Robbie Winward | Highschool Baseball

Like most of you reading this, I have played many sports since I was little; baseball and soccer were my main focus. I had my fair share of injuries, some more serious than others, but, fortunately, I got away without any surgeries, procedures or injuries that knocked me out for more than a couple weeks. However, now, suddenly, I am unable to run, and struggle with walking for what could be the rest of my life.

I first noticed pain in my knee at the start of my freshmen year of high school, during soccer season. I would start out fine, but the pain began after halftime. I would stretch rigorously, hoping wall sits would relieve the pain for enough time to finish out the game. I searched for non-time consuming, temporary reliefs. When I went back into the game, I became stiff and had a limp until about 15 minutes of pushing through it. Once those 15 minutes passed, the pain and awkwardness would be resolved. After these games, my knee felt fragile, as if ready to let me fall, and the older I got, the worse the pain became. However, my role became bigger on these teams, making me fearful of missing games. Junior year came around and I began to look at colleges with a thought of playing baseball. I hid the injury, not considering it would climax the summer going into college, and last a lifetime.

The summer going into college, I was unable to sleep because of the pressure on my knee. My walking was affected to the point where I walked very slow with my toes pointing outwards, with the middle section of my foot leading me. In addition to slow walking, I struggled through sharp pain, as it took me at least five minutes to simply put on socks. Seeing this, my parents finally convinced me- if not forced me- to have doctors take a look. I was scared. The first doctor couldn’t explain what he had seen in the X-ray and MRI. 

“I had never seen something like this without any specific injury incident” he said. 

On the MRI, my knee was overtaken by the color white, evidence that I musthave had a pretty recent and forceful injury to the knee, but I hadn’t. We went to at least three doctors before one concluded that I had something that could be compared to a tumor. Although benign, I highlighted the words “tumor” and “surgery” in my head. My heart sank when I realized that after four years of injury free sports, I had sustained what turned out to be a pretty serious injury, at least to me. However, I knew that with a fairly routine surgery, it could be removed, and I would be on the path to recovery. Some time went by where we decided to get a second opinion. In this time, the idea of a tumor was ruled out and it was transferred from an orthopedic issue to a rheumatology problem.

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After more MRI’s with little hope of discovering a diagnosis, finally, one was found. 

Observing scans of my pelvis, knee, and back, I showed clear evidence of Ankylosing Spondylitis, an autoimmune disease. With this, your immune system believes that your joints are a disease and attacks your joints, causing arthritis that leads to irreversible auto-fusing of the spine’s vertebral bodies and joints. Unlike other the scenarios, there is no road to recovery, only a road to control.

Because of my age, it was surprising that the results so clearly showed it in my lower back and knee. But luckily, the early diagnosis gives me the opportunity to treat it soon. Like I suspect anyone would do after just being told they have a disease that sounds like a Latin phrase, I took my curiosity to google. After reading articles, I was scared to say the least. Headlines screaming, “Death rates roughly double those seen in non-AS controls,”and “AS is a systemic disease, which means it may affect organs”placed me into panic, but also gave me motivation. The scare-tactic worked.

For the first time, I am seriously and devotedly committing to managing a disease. High school sports injuries were things I blew off. I had this thought that I was invincible and would stay able and athletic the rest of my life. I couldn’t imagine how someone could not run around, fall down and get right back up, or do simple, goofing around activities. I thought it was a certainty that I would be the fun, active granddad let alone father when I got older. This disease, in itself, put me into the unimagined reality; and I am committed to proving to myself, through being responsible, determined, and mindful, that I can still be the person I want to be.

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