A.S. Face 0566: Erin Filipich
My name is Erin Filipich and I am currently 38 years old, married and have 2 kids, boy age 15 and girl age 9 and I have lived in Michigan my entire life. I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis in March of 2009 after a surprising short time of severe symptoms. I recall having low back pain since my early 20’s, especially after going through the Navy’s boot camp and working full time as a commercial painter and wallpaperer. I just chalked it up to overuse and hard work. Several bouts of bad tendonitis had me in PT off and on for a few years, I took LOTS of ibuprofen and used a heating pad, I just assumed everyone had back pain! Nothing severe enough to send me to the doctor with until late summer 2008 when I started having more and more stiffness and low back pain and shoulder pain and fatigue. That continued for a couple months and my upper back and neck and legs were now hurting, stiff and I had trouble getting up out of bed and getting down the stairs in the morning. All while these pains were going on, my guts were acting up as well. I had been diagnosed with IBS as a teenager but this seemed different from my “usual” stuff. I also started losing weight and my appetite changed along with some pretty severe fatigue. I was going through a particularly stressful time with both my parents being ill so I just ignored what I could about my own health. Until mid-December 2008 I just couldn’t ignore that something bad was happening when both my eyes started becoming red, painful and my vision was blurry. It was as if there was a fog over everything….I remember trying to clean the mirror in the bathroom and not able to get it clear….duh, well it was my eyes not the mirror! I think I was in a bit of denial that something was probably really wrong! It got so bad I couldn’t hardly see to drive my kids to school and I finally went in to the eye doctor and she was quite concerned that I had severe iritis in both eyes and that coupled with my other symptoms, she told me to go straight to my doctor for blood work and I had to put steroid drops in my eyes for every hour for a couple weeks along with other drops and gels to help them heal as it was very bad. PC doc did some preliminary blood work that came back with very high CRP, SED rate, White count and she then sent me to a Rheumatologist. As luck would have it, the doctor turned out to be a former elementary school classmate of mine! We were in Girl Scouts together for several years! Such a small world! So she ran a ton more blood work and detailed history and physical exam and the results showed I was HLA-B27 positive and she made the AS diagnosis right then. She did not even need x-rays to confirm as I was probably still early enough in the disease process that not much would show yet. I cried when she told me as I had done some research on my own of all of my symptoms (got to love Google!) and Ankylosing Spondylitis kept popping up so I was aware of it and certainly hoped that wasn’t what I had! She reassured me that there are lots of meds now to help manage it and slow the progression and she was committed to helping me get my life back. First go of medication was a bust, turns out I am severely allergic to Sulfa and ended up in the ER twice after being on Sulfasalazine for 9 days! Next came Methotrexate….nasty stuff that it is, I was on it for several months with nothing really changing other than getting violently sick each day I took the meds that were taken in pill form once a week. She switched me to the injection MTX thinking it would avoid my stomach and I would tolerate it better, but the shots started making me sick within a few weeks too. So now the decision to start Biologics was at hand. She was very encouraging about them stating so many people have good luck with them and so forth, but it was a tough thing to just go and say yes. After much consideration, I started on Enbrel. WOW I was glad I did after about 6 weeks I was feeling so much better! Not perfect but much better! That worked for about 9 months, then the iritis came back with a vengeance and doctor said, time to switch medicine as Enbrel is not holding off the disease as it should. So I began on Humira. That only lasted about 3-4 months and never did anything for me as I continued getting sicker and sicker with weight loss, bloody diarrhea, increased pain and stiffness, trouble sleeping, and fatigue and then getting a horrific case of strep throat that was one for the record books. I knew I was really sick by the end of 2010 but my Dad had just undergone a lung transplant in order to prolong his life and that was a very stressful time and I just pushed on. He passed away in February 2011 and I continued to get worse and worse and in early May had more tests and found I had Ulcerative Colitis and a huge bleeding ulcer in my lower left side of my large intestine and was very close to having my colon rupture. I was immediately put on high doses of Prednisone and a drug for the UC called Asacol and both the Gastro doc and my Rheumy spoke on the phone and conferred that I needed to start Remicade ASAP. Luckily the insurance clearance didn’t take too long and I was able to start by the end of May with my loading dose. It is now August of 2012 and I have been doing great so far on the Remicade! I did have some severe right shoulder pain that was persisting after trying everything other than surgery, and finally gave in and had that operated on in November 2011 and am so glad I did! Now the issues I have are very much manageable with occasional pain meds, heat and rest and I haven’t had a bout of iritis in over a year! I do have some nerve pain/neuritis that I am dealing with but I really can’t complain since there are so many other AS’rs out there that are struggling each and every day just to get out of bed, and I am truly grateful for my time of improved health. I try to take the time I am doing well and do fun things with my family and enjoy life as much as I can, as we all know it can change in a blink of an eye. I am very fortunate to have a very supportive and INFORMED family that understands I have limitations and I have found making friends online with similar health problems a gift. Never give up that you will feel well again….I know my time of feeling well is probably limited in some way too, but that doesn’t stop me from living NOW since none of us knows what the future holds! Stand Tall!!!
Michigan United States of America