This fierce Arthritis Warrior of Knoxville, Tennessee, has a fighting spirit.
“There are a lot of things I can’t do,” says Kristen McAllister. “I feel like my story doesn’t necessarily give hope.”
As a child, Kristen felt constantly tired and feverish. At age 10, she had knee and hand surgery for painful joints. By 13, after consulting many doctors, she was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, lupus and uveitis, an eye disease that can cause blindness.
At times, the pain was agonizing, and she often felt alone, even as her family rallied around her. In 2015, Kristen spent most of the year hospitalized.
“When you look at my MRI, there are lesions on my spinal cord, caused by arthritis or the meds I was taking,” she explains. “I’m susceptible to getting infections because of my suppressed immune system. This triggered ‘transverse myelitis,’ which interrupts the whole nervous system and how your body functions. My heart was affected, too.” It also left her paralyzed from her belly button down.
Kristen’s experience illustrates the devastation caused by arthritis. But despite these challenges, few people would consider her story hopeless.
“I have full hope that I will be able to ditch the wheelchair and use assistive devices to get around,” Kristen says. “I may not be able to walk without a walker, or without crutches or leg braces. There’s part of me that looks at my wheelchair as a freedom-giving device. But there’s another part of me that remembers what it felt like to move around and be able to walk, to loosen up my joints and make me feel better.”
Last summer, resolved to see a movie at the theater, but thwarted by an already-full accessible seating area, Kristen wheeled herself up the stairs, using only her strong upper body and fierce determination.
“You can wake up in the morning and be in pain — and choose to hate this disease and hate what your life is. Or you can choose to wake up and do everything imaginable to make yourself feel better and choose to be happy despite your situation,” Kristen says. “Happiness is a choice.”
“Arthritis makes you feel so powerless sometimes. Choosing to advocate, choosing to spread awareness about this disease and what it can do, how serious it is: That’s a choice. And that gives you power over the disease.”
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