One would never label Char Burrage and her family lazy.
She and her husband Butch would often ride their bikes for miles on the W&OD Trail. They took long walks and were generally enjoying life as their two children, now 15 and 24, were getting older.
But all that came to a painfully screeching halt a few years ago when the retired Air Force veteran was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis – a disease for which there is no cure.
Daily chores like walking the dog became difficult, working became torture and some nights Burrage would wake in the middle in tears, complaining that every part of her body hurt.
Today, the 46-year-old South Riding woman is thriving thanks to early intervention and treatment.
The debilitating pain is gone, along with the extreme fatigue and she’s back to riding her bike again.
Burrage is one of the lucky ones. Many with psoriatic arthritis – because there’s no test for the disease – don’t get treatment early enough and end up in wheel chairs for the rest of their lives.
“It was really frustrating and at times I would say ‘I’m sure someone’s going to think I’m lying to them’ because I would say my knees are hurting and a couple of days later … I would say my knees are fine but my shoulder really hurts,” she said. “Getting diagnosed was kind of a blessing and a curse. I thought it was going to be the worse thing ever to find out I had psoriatic arthritis. I thought ‘I’m going to have this for the rest of my life. There’s no cure.’”
Burrage was diagnosed with psoriasis in her early 20s, a sign of things to come. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, skin disease precedes joint disease in 85 percent of patients.
“With the psoriasis I was kind of aware of psoriatic arthritis. I kind of knew that some people got it but it was a really low percentage back then … so I didn’t pay too much attention to it. Over the years I had symptoms of it but didn’t really pay attention to it. I would get pain in my knees, but it was going to rain,” Burrage said.
Psoriatic arthritis develops slowly with mild symptoms, or it can develop fast and be severe, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation.
For Burrage, the symptoms came slowly. It was toward the end of her career in the Air Force that Burrage began to experience extreme fatigue.
“It was like if someone stuck a needle in you and sucked out all the energy,” she said. “… Imagine the most tired you’ve ever been, the most exhausted you’ve ever been and times that by like 100. You just want to lay down and cry.”
Trips back and forth to the family doctor only yielded treatments of vitamin regiments, multiple X-rays and referrals to physical therapists.
Eventually, during a stressful time in Burrage’s life – she was working overtime as an engineer on a trying project and her brother was dying of cancer – her knees and shoulder began to hurt.
“It was in at least two joints at one point at any given time and then it would stop and it would show up in a different joint,” she said.
A physical therapist eventually noticed an usual grinding in her shoulder and after another round of X-rays Burrage was referred to a rheumatologist in October 2011.
Burrage was offered a variety of treatments. She opted for Simponi, a once a month shot that’s fairly new to the market.
“It took a little while to build up. The first shot, it was almost immediate. For a week and a half every day I felt better and better. … By February or March of this year it had fully kicked in and it’s wonderful. This time last year I couldn’t even walk,” she said.
She was also given supplements to take, such as fish oil, folic acid and Vitamin D. Burrage was required to lose some weight since “every pound is like four pounds of pressure on your joint.” And she was prescribed a low-dose chemotherapy drug that has caused her hair to thin and some nausea.
Burrage decided to speak out about her disease because few know about it, she said. Early intervention saved her life, she said, and she wants to make sure others have the same opportunities. Her life, compared to two years ago, is fruitful.
“It’s a huge difference. I’m not where I was before the psoriatic arthritis hit but I know that if I want to go for a bike ride I can give it a go,” Burrage said.
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