Age 22, I was the healthiest person you could meet. I was slim, ran several miles each morning and rarely even caught a cold.
And then one day, I woke up with a sore knee. I assumed I’d banged it and waited for it to get better. But it didn’t, it got worse.
I went back and forwards to the doctor's Surgery and then the A & E department.
Two weeks later, my feet joined the bandwagon and were swollen so badly I couldn’t walk, then my hands swelled too and when my boss at the Café where I worked told me he had to let me go, I knew the situation was getting serious.
I was hospitalised as doctors battled to control the aggressive onset of what later turned out to be Rheumatoid Arthritis.
When they told me the cause of my problems, I just heard the word 'arthritis'.
It's poignant looking back now, remembering the relief I felt. 'A few aches and pains,' I thought… Oh, the bliss of ignorance!
Because whilst Osteo-Arthritis is a gradual wearing down of the joints over time, Rheumatoid Arthritis is a very different kettle of fish.
R.A. is a disease of the auto-immune system. Put simply, my immune system doesn’t recognise my own tissue and attacks everything it sees. It sees my entire body as the enemy and is hell-bent on destruction.
And it doesn’t stop there. It’s a systemic disease which means it is free to attack any and every system in the body: musculo-skeletal, respiratory, reproductive - you name it, it can and does…
Up to now, I have two artificial knees, two artificial hips and two artificial elbows. I have plates in my wrists, plates in my feet and countless nuts and bolts holding it all together.
For 10 years, doctors have been patching me up and these surgical interventions have successfully postponed the inevitable decline in mobility that a chronic, degenerative condition like R.A. virtually guarantees.
But I’ve come to the end of the road now with surgery. Add to that a recent diagnosis of Systemic Vasculitis – an incurable, secondary condition, common in severe, end-stage R.A. that attacks capillaries, veins, arteries and ultimately, organs – and you’ll understand my decision to investigate, once and for all, if stem cells hold any hope for me.
Stem cell research has made huge leaps in recent years and auto-immune conditions are one of the more recent disease groups stem cell scientists claim to have conquered. As a freelance writer, I spend a lot of time researching the internet, reading incredible stories of miracle cures using stem cells; exactly what folk like me want to hear.
This film is a record of what it is like to live with R.A. It follows my quest for a definitive answer on whether stem cell therapy could save my life.
So here’s the challenge - imagine your life depends on it. Stem cell therapy; credible cure? Or science’s biggest scam?
Welcome to my world.
The Shropshire woman on a journey to find out if stem cell research will save her life.
Has Spaghetti Junction reached its sell-by date?
- Mary Rhodes