For the most part, Dan Ortman is just like any other red-blooded, 28-year-old male. He’s ambitious and funny. He has goals and is determined. But one thing makes him unlike many of his peers – Dan has arthritis.
When he was 11-years-old, Dan went with his family on a camping trip. After returning home he noticed pain in his ankle. He had trouble walking and the pain was gradually increasing. His doctor told him to stay off his feet for a while and rest.
The pain continued to get worse and, after a bone scan, Dan was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis. One month after his diagnosis, Dan’s arthritis progressed so much that he was in a wheelchair.
“It was pretty scary,” said Dan. “I didn’t know kids could get arthritis. Arthritis was something my grandmother had. It was a rough discovery.”
Dan’s arthritis was very aggressive. Finding and keeping an effective treatment proved difficult. At the time of his diagnosis, biologic medications were not yet on the market, so he relied on other less effective medications in an attempt to control progression of the disease and limit pain.
When he was 14-years-old, the first biologic drug was approved. “It was awesome,” said Dan. “By the end of the year, I was out of the wheelchair and walking.”
Unfortunately, his treatment success didn’t last. As with many arthritis medications, the drug eventually lost its effectiveness leaving Dan searching for another answer. The second biologic drug he tried didn’t work and the third was only approved by his insurance provider after months of lobbying by his physician and weekly calls from Dan. By this time, arthritis had taken a significant toll on Dan’s body.
Over the following years, Dan continued to search for effective treatments. In his 20’s, he was also diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis.
Determined to live life to its fullest, Dan adopted a Champion of Yes spirit, refusing to let arthritis rob him of life’s pleasures. “Nothing diminished life if you don’t let it,” said Dan.
While Dan battled arthritis, he attended Mount St. Mary’s University, was on the dean’s list and earned a black belt in karate.
“Because of my arthritis, I got much better in certain areas of martial arts,” explained Dan. “One day I could be throwing high kicks but then my knee would stiffen up, so I had to use my hands. Then my hips would hurt, so I had to figure out how to be more economical with my footwork. I don’t recommend arthritis as an opportunity to become a better athlete. Arthritis sucks, but it certainly helped me improve my martial arts.”
Today, Dan is working towards his goal of using his unique life experiences and knowledge to help kids who are struggling with disabilities.
“I have a very unique view on mental health issues and how the body impacts the brain,” said Dan. “My dream is to work with clients, especially kids, helping them with complex psychiatric illnesses and developmental disabilities.”
Dan is also the captain of a very successful Arthritis Foundation Jingle Bell Run team. Named Dan’s Fans, his team has raised more than $100,000 in support of the Foundation’s mission to conquer and cure arthritis. This year he is serving as the Jingle Bell Run young adult honoree in Ellicott City, MD.
“I really like my role as team leader because, while everyone is running and walking through the snow at the cusp of dawn, I show up at the finish line, shake everyone’s hand and drink hot coffee,” said Dan with a chuckle.
“Living with arthritis is difficult,” said Dan. “But nothing in life that’s worth doing is easy. It’s a big part of you, but it’s not who you are. I don’t want my nieces, nephews or future children to get it, so let’s cure arthritis.”
You can support Dan and his team by making a donation to Dan’s Fans today.