A.S. Face 1322: Joey Fletcher
My name is Joey Fletcher. I am 38 years old and live in the state of Kentucky. GO WILDCATS!!!
At the age of 2, a neighborhood kid and I was on a play date and hit one of my feet when she threw my favorite toy at me. At first, my mother thought my foot was broken. The doctors noticed some unusual bowing in my legs and sent me to a specialist. As it turns out, my foot was not broken. I ended up being sent down to Vanderbilt in Nashville, TN where I was seen by a wonderful pediatrician and endocrinologist where we learned that I was born with Vitamin D Resistant Rickets. While down in Nashville, they put me on medication and had me wearing leg braces. These type of leg braces were unique because they were the kind that kept my legs from bending at all in hopes to straighten some of the bowing in my legs as I grew. I ended up wearing leg braces for the first 13 years of my life. You can imagine the type of bullying I received from having to wear braces and add on the fact of how awkward I walked with my feet pointed inwards. To this day, my legs are still bowed pretty badly and my feet continue to point inwards.
Around the age of 18 or 19, I started having severe back pain and no one could tell me why. I had numerous CT Scans, MRIs, X-Rays, etc….I was beyond tired of the testing and getting no answers. The doctors thought perhaps it was Degenerative Disc Disease, which I was diagnosed with in my early 20’s. Around 20 years old is when I first started showing signs of Ankylosing Spondylitis, but no one knew it. I was slowly losing the ability to turn my head, raise my arms as high, and hunching over. Myself and my doctors were back to the drawing board. I lost count of how many specialists I saw the first few years of my 20’s. Even a rheumatologist missed it back then and agreed that it was Degenerative Disc Disease. It’s the answers all the doctors were giving me because other family members have the same condition. No one else was showing signs of fused areas in the body.
As I was slowly losing all these abilities and not getting answers, it caused me to sink into a deep depression which I tried to fight off by concentrating on playing online games. Playing games is what took my mind off of the fact that my body was turning against me. I got deeply involved in what some call hardcore gaming. I started playing with people and became close friends with them. A few of these people I still talk to today. I got into games such as World of Warcraft for several years where I went through numerous expansions for the game. I got to the point where I was super hardcore playing 24-48 hours straight because being off the game was causing me to have suicidal thoughts. I was losing everything in reality, so I tried to find myself in the virtual world. I was embarrassed and afraid to face family. I would hide myself in my room when anyone came into our house. I only felt comfortable going around my mother as she’s the one who’s taken care of me most of my life and still assists me today because of my limits that I have. To be honest, I do fear the day I lose her. She’s in her early 60’s and the past few years I’ve tried to turn my life around after finally having my AS diagnosis and gaining what independence I can back. I fear that losing her may drive me back into a deep dark hole because there is no one else in my family that I can count on.
On August 1st, 2013, my cousin Almanzo(AJ) came up to my house to work on his resume. He had been pretty sad lately from losing his mother 2 days after Christmas in 2012. He was finally pulling things together and for some reason, I came out of my shell that I buried myself in that day. I went out my room and I sat in the living room and just talked with him for an hour while he worked on his resume on my mothers computer. the very next day on August 2nd, 2013 AJ was brutally stabbed to death by his own brother Britt Deckert. Luckily, he was found guilty 2 years later and is now serving over 20 years in prison for his actions. I still think of AJ quite often because after my talk with him that day, I resume my goal to find out my diagnosis. I came out of my shell and started pulling together for myself. I went to Vocational Rehab to get help finding a part time job so I can help take care of myself. I now have a part time job that I’ve had since January 12, 2015 where I work from home doing customer service. I got my diagnosis that same year AJ died.
I got my diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis and ever since then I have worked very hard on trying to improve the quality of my life. I meet each day with positive thoughts. I have my drivers license back and have 2 GoPros setup in my car to display live feeds so I can see oncoming traffic from left and right at stop signs. Getting my diagnosis and my conversation with AJ that day was like a ton of weight lifted off my shoulders. Until I meet my maker, I will continue to meet each day with a smile on my face.
Kentucky, United States of America