Katrina Thornely has been dealing with arthritis since she was just a year old. Now 27, she’s living proof that the disease doesn’t just affect the elderly. ‘It stopped me walking as a child because my legs had to be in splints,’ she tells Time Out over a ginger tea.
‘I was on constant meds all the time. My jaw didn’t develop as quickly as it should, and because I looked different, I was picked on at school. I couldn’t do sports and I had constant hospital appointments and physio, so I was singled out for being different.’
Thornely is on the board of directors for Emirates Arthritis Foundation (EAF), the local resource for arthritis patients. Fundamentally, the foundation provides patient support and assistance with medical funding. However, EAF is in dire need of funds. Thornely tells us that the average amount spent on medication for an arthritis patient is around Dhs70,000 a year. (She takes 10 different types of drug a day). Considering this is more than many patients’ annual salary, EAF is a vital source of aid. But both the credit crunch and a lack of local awareness about the disease has seen EAF’s resources dwindle.
There are many forms of arthritis. The disease can inhibit development of the body and causes disability and deformation, attacking joints and cartilage, and even creates problems with internal organs, including inflammation of the lungs. It can also be very painful. Thornely has long, thick scars that extend vertically from her forearm over her wrist, the result of surgery after her wrists ‘dropped’, meaning her hands were hanging loosely from the end of her arms where the tendons had given way. This happened when Thornely was 18 years old and sitting her final exams at school. It’s just one example of how debilitating arthritis can be.
Luckily, there is hope on the horizon for arthritis sufferers in the form of wonder drug Biologic Anti TNF. If a person starts taking Biologic within six months of being diagnosed, they can expect to be in remission within two to three years, ‘and are very likely to be for the rest of their lives,’ according to Thornely.
This drug can potentially help a lot of sufferers. One in five people across the world has arthritis. Although there are no official figures for the UAE, there are 12,000 arthritis sufferers aged under 17 in the UK, and 25,000 in the US. If young arthritis patients are diagnosed quickly, there is no reason they should suffer the way that Thornely has. But at the moment, the average time between the first visit to the doctor and diagnosis of arthritis in the UAE is 18 months, after which time the drug isn’t as effective.
So what do Thornely and EAF want? ‘A lovely rich millionaire,’ Thornely replies. She’s probably only half joking, as most of EAF’s needs come down to money. The foundation needs funding to help cover its members’ medical bills, as well as to tell more people about the disease. Earlier diagnosis, and more consideration for our own health, is what the EAF wants most for Dubaians. ‘It costs Dhs400-600 to see a rheumatologist [a joint doctor], and an arthritis patient needs to see one every six weeks,’ says Thornely. ‘It costs about Dhs600 just to be diagnosed in the first place.’
Lovely millionaire pending, EAF has a few fundraising initiatives lined up over the next few months. This Saturday, EAF’s stall at Safa Park will be rustling up some much-needed cash. The second-hand stall can raise up to Dhs3,000, which isn’t bad for a day’s work, especially as all items for sale have been donated. If you have any old clothes, electronics, games, books or toys lying around, give EAF a call. There’s also a walkathon on March 12 – see the website for more.
Contact EAF on 04 423 1470 or visit www.arthritis.ae. Donations for the Safa Park stall can be dropped off at EAF’s office in Dubai Healthcare City.