Her journey with arthritis began as a 21-year-old college student. One morning, April N. West woke up feeling like she had exercised vigorously the day before. The pain in her ankles, knees and hips was unbearable. Then without health insurance, she relied on over-the-counter medication for relief, but the pain didn’t go away.
While visiting family in Florida, April remembers coughing so profusely that she had to rest on their couch the entire time. At that point, she knew something was seriously wrong – and soon found herself hospitalized. After much deliberation, her doctors all agreed that an autoimmune illness was causing her body to attack her joints and vital organs, including her lungs.
Officially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), April had no idea that moment would mark the beginning of a lifetime of taking medications, hospital stays and adapting to a totally new lifestyle.
Which cocktail of medicine will work?
“When first diagnosed, the treatments I received were pain pills, steroids – a variety of different cocktails to see which ones worked best to control my symptoms,” says April. “But I was still stiff and achy.”
At the time, she lived in Savannah with her grandmother, who had to help her get dressed every day. “Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? My grandmother, helping her 22-year-old granddaughter get dressed. But my joints were deteriorating rapidly.”
Finally April found new hope when her rheumatologist suggested that biologics might help slow down the deterioration of her joints. Years later, says April, “I give myself an injection every two weeks. The biologics are still doing their job, telling my body to stop attacking itself. I’m no longer actively deteriorating, just maintaining right now.”
A positive attitude, resilience and taking charge
April has a remarkable attitude, which has helped keep her life on an even keel these past several years. And her positive outlook and resilience rubs off on others. “I don’t let my RA slow me down,” she says. “In the morning, I will lie there for a while until my joints kind of warm up, but I know that things have to happen and I’ve got to make them happen, and some icky, creaky joints are not going to stop me.”
We are privileged to salute April West, the Arthritis Foundation’s 2016 Walk to Cure Arthritis national adult honoree. Her team, Quest-4-West, is among the Atlanta area’s top fundraising teams. April is doing amazing work to raise awareness about arthritis. And she inspires us all to raise our own voices – as Champions of Yes.
“I want others to know arthritis isn’t just something elderly people get,” says April. “It attacks children and young adults. It will pick any random person and decide that your body, your joints, your organs are a foreign agent, and it starts to break your body down.”
April’s advice to family and friends
“Have a little bit of compassion, some patience and support us in any way you can.”
Thank You to Our 2016 National Walk to Cure Arthritis Sponsors!