Gina Schuster


I am 46 years old (47 in October) and I was diagnosed with A.S. 12 years ago. Like so many others, I’ve lived with the symptoms since my teen years. It took visits to numerous doctors to find a rheumatologist who knew what to look for and what blood test to order.

I lived through horrific physical, emotional and sexual abuse throughout my childhood and adulthood. I escaped an abusive father by getting married, but I managed to pick a guy very much like my father. I was granted a divorce from my ex for Cruel and Inhumane Treatment after he admitted to some of the abuse in court.

I have 23 vertebrae with varying levels of damage from the abuse, which A.S. further complicates. I’ve had 2 failed cervical & upper thoracic spine surgeries which replaced a total of 7 vertebrae & 6 discs. While I use a wheel chair to get around, I am not paralyzed. I can stand for a short period on my own and I can hobble for a few steps if I hold onto things. I also have fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis.  I have spinal cord signal loss at two levels, as well as nerve root compression.

Throughout the last few years I’ve worked with my physical therapist to find exercises that I can do. It was somewhat effective, but I was left looking for more. In the winter of 2015 my mom passed away and it forced me to take a long, hard look at my own life. I was on blood pressure medication and cholesterol medication and I felt like I should be able to do more to improve my life. I found a new physical therapist who worked with me to put together modified mat Pilates workouts for me. I worked with a dietitian and completely overhauled my dietary choices. I also added daily meditations to my routine. While my physical limitations do limit me, my new modified Pilates workouts work so well because I am lying on my back and taking the pressure off my spine. I reached my goal in 6 months, losing 20 pounds and 15 inches overall! One year later, I’ve not only kept the weight off, I’ve lost another 10 pounds and 6 additional inches. I look forward to my daily Pilates workouts and I have so much more energy.

Fifteen years ago, while in the middle of my divorce from my abusive ex, I met and later married the most incredible man, Erik Schuster. He’s kind, sweet, romantic and supportive. We celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary in May. As I once said to my mom “where fists once flew, kisses now land.” Erik has been strong and steady by my side, through all of my physical limitations and has supported me emotionally as well. He grows roses in the garden so he can pick them for me. I love that he still has to kiss me when he enters or leaves the room. He’s amazing! And I’m truly blessed.

Through all of my physical limitations, I refuse to let it keep me down or break my spirit. I may not be able to go out for a hike or a bike ride, but I can make the most out of what I can do. Living with A.S. is difficult. The trick is to not focus on what you can’t do, focus instead on what you can do.

New York, United States of America

One Response to “Gina Schuster”

  1. Dear Gina,
    Thank you so much for sharing your story with us.
    Sincerely Cookie

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